CHIP on the chopping block

    During Thursday’s health overhaul summit President Obama will try to restart the debate in Congress. Some child advocates are hoping lawmakers will rethink their plans to get rid of CHIP — the popular health insurance program for kids.

    During Thursday’s health overhaul summit President Obama will try to restart the debate in Congress. Some child advocates are hoping lawmakers will rethink their plans to get rid of CHIP — the popular health insurance program for kids.

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    In many states, the Children’s Health Insurance Program has expanded health coverage for poor kids. But the House reform plan would scrap CHIP in 2013.

    Child health advocate Colleen McCauley is fighting the House plan.

    McCauley:
    And it’s a big deal, because we have 197,000 kids in Pennsylvania on CHIP and 63,000 kids alone from Southeastern Pennsylvania.

    The House bill moves some children from CHIP into Medicaid, the public health plan for the poor.

    Low-income kids who don’t qualify for the expanded Medicaid program could get private coverage through new insurance marketplaces called exchanges.

    McCauley: The exchanges are something that are untested, and it looks like kids could possibly not be able to afford the coverage as well as they can now and the benefit packages would be smaller under the exchange.

    Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey says he wants to wait and see whether families really can find good care through the exchanges. He favors a Senate plan to extend CHIP an extra six years.

    Casey: Probably the most compelling argument in favor of keeping the Children’s Health Insurance Program as a separate program is: We’ve got a lot of evidence.

    CHIP provides free or low-cost coverage to working families. Delaware County mom Lauren Lynch discovered CHIP after her husband died, and the family lost his workplace coverage.

    Lynch: The cost of our own health care was just astronomical. Being a single mom and having a mortgage and a car payment, CHIP just made it so much more affordable, and financially we could put food on the table and keep our PECO bill paid.

    States have a lot of leeway over what benefits to offer. Since the recession hit, 15 states have frozen enrollment or scaled back CHIP coverage. So some experts argue that kids might fare better in the Medicaid program because states have to take anyone who qualifies.

    Robert Moffit directs health policy studies at the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation. He says Democrats are too focused on moving families into public health programs, instead of helping people afford private insurance.

    Moffit: Locking people up into a government program like Medicaid or S-CHIP, which actually has a lower level of performance in terms of delivering quality care is exactly the wrong thing to do.

    Actually, the research is mixed on whether kids get better care through CHIP or private insurance. Moffit cites studies which found that kids on CHIP drop in and out of coverage because of confusing rules.

    Meanwhile supporters point to studies showing that kids on CHIP get to see a doctor and receive needed medicine as often as kids with private insurance.

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