147,000 children across Pa. found to lack health insurance

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HARRISBURG -- More than 147,000 children in Pennsylvania lack health insurance, according to a recent study, despite the commonwealth's goal of ensuring coverage for all kids.

Between private insurance, Medicaid for kids from low-income families and the Children's Health Insurance Program -- which covers children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but can't afford private insurance -- children in the commonwealth ought to be universally covered.

So why are some kids still uninsured?

Parents might not be aware of the programs available for their kids, said Michael Race, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, the nonprofit that released the study last week. And if parents themselves are without insurance, coverage might not be a priority until their child gets sick.

"Sometimes the family is just not aware that they are eligible. They may have heard of the program, but may not think it is for someone like them, with two jobs," said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute, which was not involved with the Pennsylvania study.

Other factors that can keep kids from getting needed coverage: complicated application or renewal processes for some programs, or children whose parents are illegal immigrants and might be reluctant to apply for assistance, said Ms. Alker.

The figures in the study come from Census data; the American Communities Survey, a smaller set of Census data; and figures from the state's Department of Public Welfare and Insurance Department.

More than 1 million children from low-income families are covered under Medicaid, and about 190,000 are covered under CHIP, according to data from the study.

The number of uninsured kids, 147,700, decreased slightly from 153,300 children last year, the study noted.

The state's uninsured children don't have a consistent demographic or geographic profile.

"There really is no part of the state where this is more pervasive than another. It's in rural areas, in urban areas, east, west, center," said Mr. Race.

The number of uninsured kids, amounting to about 1 in 20 children statewide, has been largely unchanged in recent years, but recent legislative changes could help reduce that figure, he said.

A bill signed by Gov. Tom Corbett in October as part of his Healthy PA proposal eliminated the six-month waiting period that applied to some children enrolling in CHIP.

"We see that as a way to move us forward," said Mr. Race.

Senate Democrats earlier this year had criticized the Corbett administration for a drop of more than 7,700 kids in CHIP enrollment without a corresponding increase in Medicaid, and had suggested changes to ease enrollment and renewal for the program.

The governor's office had pointed to an additional $8.5 million in state funds for CHIP in the current budget.

For the last several years, the program has not had funds to advertise the program, said Melissa Fox, a spokeswoman for the state's Insurance Department. The additional funds are being used for outreach, and to provide insurance to 9,300 new enrollees expected through expanded outreach efforts, said Ms. Fox.

The Affordable Care Act's mandate to carry insurance and the governor's plan to provide subsidies for low-income people to purchase insurance, also will help expand coverage, Mr. Race said. Even though those changes are expected to mainly impact adults, that has a ripple effect on kids and families.

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. First Published November 3, 2013 11:20 PM

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