A new home and streamlining of CHIP, Pennsylvania’s health insurance for low-income kids, has allowed 18,000 more children to enroll in the past year. It all happened since the program was removed from the insurance department and absorbed by the Department of Human Services. Secretary Ted Dallas knows that on the surface, moving CHIP to his agency doesn’t seem exciting, but he says it made the big enrollment jump possible.
“We’ve been able to reduce the time it takes to get enrolled in CHIP, the call times to answer the phone when people have questions, that’s much quicker now. And that to me is what makes what otherwise might not be the most interesting thing in the world, an interesting thing,” Dallas said.
DHS is working to combine its database of Medicaid and CHIP eligible families into one system by 2018. Richard Weishaupt, a senior attorney at Community Legal Services says the old system was vulnerable to lost records, which delayed getting kids covered.
“Delay is in some ways the same as rejection,” said Weishaupt, “because if you need health insurance for your child typically you need it right away. And going two to three months without coverage can be very serious, especially if your child gets sick.” He added that the move is consistent with how CHIP is run in other states, where the agency that administers Medicaid, also handles CHIP.
Secretary Dallas says that running one computer system for CHIP and Medicaid means taxpayers will save more than $3 million a year. It also means fewer hoops for low-income parents to jump through. He says they often have trouble negotiating the two systems when their income goes up and down.
“As long as they qualify for one program or the other our goal is to make it so they don’t see the difference. And they can make sure the healthcare for their kids is there when they need it,” said Dallas.
DHS is also smoothing out differences in coverage between CHIP and Medicaid. For example, both plans now employ the same standard for orthodontic care. Now, if a child gets braces while they are on Medicaid, they will still be covered if they move to CHIP.
Weishaupt says coverage gaps remain between the two programs for mental health care and durable medical equipment, but is optimistic these issues will be addressed by the state.
In Pennsylvania, children’s enrollment in health insurance is at an all-time high — 95 percent of kids covered by Medicaid, CHIP, or through their parent’s private coverage.