No more waiting for CHIP
HARRISBURG - A new state law eliminating a six-month waiting period for children to enroll in the state Children's Health Insurance Program took effect immediately after Gov. Tom Corbett signed it last week.
The law means that low-income children no longer have to be without health insurance or "go bare" for six months before they can enroll in CHIP even if their families meet the income eligibility guidelines.
For all the hoopla surrounding the law's passage, the actual number of children directly affected by the lift of the waiting period is relatively small - 206 children have been waiting compared to 188,000 low-income children currently enrolled in CHIP, according to state officials.
However, lawmakers said they've been hearing from constituents about the wait especially as more employers switch to providing coverage for only employees rather than traditional family coverage.
State officials say the wait requirement has been a huge deterrent that stopped many families from even applying for CHIP coverage in the first place.
"The important number is the thousands that are deterred from applying because of the 'go bare' period that never make it to the waiting list," said William A. Shaffer, chief of the CHIP policy and planning division. "They just never bother to apply."
Many families have been reluctant to have their child go without insurance for six months due to concerns about a sudden health emergency during that period, said Sen. Don White, R-41, Indiana, chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
The wait period was originally written into state law so that employers or consumers wouldn't drop existing coverage just to enter the CHIP program. It has applied to the versions of CHIP providing for low-cost and full-cost coverage, but not free coverage.
"This is a day about our children," said Mr. Corbett as he signed the CHIP law.
The governor spoke without knowing perhaps the full range of events involving children's issues at the Capitol that day.
The Senate approved an additional five child protection bills, part of a comprehensive effort to overhaul the whole system for protecting children from abusive situations in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The House approved a measure to require that parents report the disappearance of their child within 24 hours or face criminal penalties. The bill sponsored by Rep. Karen Boback, R-117, Harveys Lake, provides some safeguards against prosecution for innocent mistakes such as a divorced parent not knowing of their child's whereabouts.
On another front, Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-120, Kingston, and other members of Early Childhood Education Caucus called attention to the need for continued state funding for Head Start, Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and other programs to provide education to children at an early age.