Pennsylvania CHIPs in; program desperate for federal funds

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Since the start of October, the families of 9 million children — including more than 180,000 in Pennsylvania — have been calling on lawmakers to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf answered those calls Friday, Dec. 15, by signing a bill to extend the state’s funding for the program, but that money will not go far, he warned.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

State funding accounts for only 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s CHIP budget, leaving a roughly $405 million hole for Congress to fill so the state can continue to provide free and low-cost health insurance to children and families in Pennsylvania, according to the governor’s office.

More:Health coverage for 180K Pa. kids on the line as Congress ignores CHIP

“I am proud to sign this legislation that represents Pennsylvania’s bipartisan commitment to securing health insurance for our most vulnerable — our children and pregnant women,” Wolf said in a statement. “However, this is just one step in ensuring children are cared for. Congress needs to do its part and reauthorize CHIP at the federal level.”

End is nigh? If Congress fails to act on CHIP funding, Pennsylvania’s program is projected to only last into the first quarter of next year. 

More:Wolf, 11 other governors urge Congress to fund CHIP

CHIP provides free or low-cost health insurance options for children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but do not have access to health coverage through other means.

Alabama became the first state to notify CHIP parents about a potential end to the program, warning parents on Monday, Dec. 18, that state officials will no longer enroll new children into the program starting Jan. 1. 

Without congressional reauthorization, Alabama’s CHIP program will end one month later on Feb. 1, according to the state’s notification to parents.

Teresa Miller, acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, will soon have to begin sending out notifications telling CHIP parents the program is about to end. Notifications must be sent out at least 30 days before the program ends because of lack of funding, according to the department.

“There’s a draft letter informing thousands of Pennsylvania parents that their kids might lose their health coverage after the holidays that’s sitting on my desk,” Miller said at the beginning of December. 

More:EDITORIAL: Congress, it's past time to fund CHIP

In the last nine years, more than 850,000 kids have enrolled in Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to Miller. 

“Despite all the families helped by CHIP and the access to high-quality health care coverage it provides, the program will no longer exist unless Congress acts,” Miller said in a statement.

Signed into law in 1992, Pennsylvania's CHIP program served as the model for the federal CHIP program, which has existed since 1997. 

A family of four with an income of up to $51,168 can receive free CHIP insurance for their children, while a family of four with an income of up to $77,244 qualifies for low-cost CHIP insurance, according to the state Department of Human Services.