Prompted by feds, Pa. sweetens kids’ health insurance coverage

     Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, in Norristown, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, in Norristown, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    About 150,000 children enrolled in a Pennsylvania-subsidized health insurance program will see additional benefits by the end of the year.

    The Wolf administration is expanding health benefits for the entire Children’s Health Insurance Program. The changes cap a months-long effort to bring the program’s plans up to the standards of the Affordable Care Act.

    The federal government warned state officials earlier this year that a small set of CHIP families would face tax penalties unless they had better health coverage. In response, the Wolf administration expanded benefits for that subset, as well as everyone else in the program.

    State Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller said CHIP parents shouldn’t see much change to their health care costs. Miller, who said monthly premiums will remain the same or rise by a few dollars,  credited insurers for “making good health coverage affordable for so many Pennsylvania families.”

    The new menu of benefits will include preventive health care services that won’t require cost-sharing and unlimited benefits considered to be essential, such as hearing aids and dental work. The additional coverage takes effect in December.

    The Wolf administration announced the move during a press conference at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

    Dr. Craig Hillemeier, CEO of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, said without robust children’s health insurance, problems go unaddressed for too long by parents fearing costly medical bills.

    “That’s the key point here,” said Hillemeier. “It will be easier for them to obtain what they feel is good insurance coverage, so they won’t be as hesitant to seek care for their child.”

    The implementation of the federal health care law has forced the state to make changes to CHIP, including shifting some children into the federal Medicaid program.

    “I think that this completes the transition process to being fully compliant with the strictures of the Affordable Care Act,” said Richard Weishaupt with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. “In terms of just getting Pennsylvania’s program aligned … I think we’re done.”

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