More CHIP funding applauded Pa., but some strategies questioned

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is proposing an extra $8.5 million for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Some of that funding is earmarked for outreach to eligible families who’ve yet to sign up for CHIP.

    Joan Benso, who leads the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children in Harrisburg, welcomed the pledge of new funds.

    “At this point in time, I think it’s just good news that they made a move that said,  ‘We’re going to put some money on the table. We’ll have some skin in the game and it is, indeed, our goal to find and enroll eligible children,'” Benso said. “This is the first time outreach money is being dedicated in many years. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many years.”

    Others were more critical of Corbett’s proposal.

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    “This expansion just puts us back to about the number of children who were receiving CHIP when he took office and nothing more,” said Colleen McCauley, health policy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

    CHIP managers need to make sure the program is administered in ways that attract and retain eligible families, McCauley said.

    The state Insurance Department recently changed its renewal-notice policy. Parents now get notifications 90 days and 60 days before their child’s coverage is set to expire.

    “So the Insurance Department stopped sending its 30-day reminder last fall,” McCauley said. “And in a one-month period — between December 2012 and January 2013 — 2,000 fewer children were enrolled in CHIP. That’s a dramatic one-month decline, 2,000 kids, when over the last year the total drop has been 6,200 kids.”

    “A reminder letter closer to the date your child’s insurance cuts off may very well be the thing that parents need to take action and reapply,” McCauley said.

    “Families basically have three chances to renew coverage,” Insurance Department spokeswoman Rosanne Placey said in an email. “And even if the family does complete the renewal within 60 days after termination, the child is reinstated back to the renewal date.”

    Reminders placed in doctors’ offices

    With limited funds, Pennsylvania has moved away from broad-based advertising. Last year, however, the state invested in a targeted promotion and placed posters in doctors’ offices, Placey said.

    “We had a lot of good feedback about it. Medical providers said, ‘This is really fun, this is decorative, we are going to keep it up even after your campaign,'” she said.

    Spending on CHIP marketing has declined in recent years, Placey reports. During that time, the department largely relied on advertising from partner insurance companies. But, she said, the new budget proposal was designed to “reinvigorate” outreach efforts.

    The target audiences could include working parents of uninsured children as well as families in the Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh regions.

    About 150,000 kids, or 5 percent, are uninsured in Pennsylvania. About 5 percent of children in Delaware are uninsured; 6 percent of New Jersey children are uninsured. Nationally,  the rate is 8 percent.

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