Oct. 12Federal funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program in Pennsylvania could dry up as soon as January if Congress does not reauthorize spending for it.
Lawmakers missed the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the program, better known as CHIP, for children in families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford insurance.
CHIP has widespread, bipartisan support, and this funding step is routine enough that lawmakers could handle it in an afternoon, said Sen. Bob Casey during a roundtable talk Wednesday in a Moses Taylor Hospital board room.
Failing to approve funding could cut insurance coverage for nearly 6,600 children in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, officials say.
Statewide, nearly 177,000 children could lose their coverage.
Casey discussed the implications with Teresa Miller, acting secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, hospital officials and two CHIP customers.
An insurance access advocate, state CHIP officials and state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, also joined the discussion.
"If we have to ultimately wind down this program which I can't even wrap my head around how devastating that would be for families but if we had to do that, we have to start taking action now," Miller said.
Her department would need to begin dismantling the program and notify families long before it actually ends, she said.
"We need Congress to act on this now," she said. "We don't want families to continue to wonder whether this program is going to continue."
Kris Morgan, a single mother from Blakely, once ended her own doctor visits to save money for her two sons' health care.
Now that they have their own insurance through CHIP, she takes better care of herself, she said, but the missed funding deadline has her concerned.
"We make the sacrifices for our kids," she said. "If they go back on my insurance, then I start making the cuts."
Before the Affordable Care Act, Scott Cannon and his wife, both independent business owners from Plymouth, spent more on health insurance premiums than on their mortgage each month.
Now, he said he buys health insurance for himself and his wife through the online insurance marketplace, and their 10-year-old daughter has a CHIP plan with a small premium.
"The whole system is making insurance more manageable and affordable," he said, adding that it's still not perfect. "The deductibles are going up every year, and some of the benefits are going down, but it's something that we can afford."
Casey's father, the late Gov. Robert P. Casey, in 1992 signed into law what would become a model for the national children's health insurance program, State Children's Health Insurance Program, SCHIP.
He is urging Pennsylvanians to implore their representatives to fund CHIP by next week.
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CHIP enrollment by county, Oct. 2017
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