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"children in households earning less than $51,580 are eligible at no cost..."

Health insurance for all children

In a coordinated effort across the country, students from the Kingsley-Lincoln Freedom School program lined the sidewalk in front of their building June 13 to rally for health coverage for every child in America. The event was part of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools National Day of Social Action in which 135 schools in 27 states participated.

“While they’re talking about health reform, we’re trying to make sure children are included,” said local project director Tamanika Howze. “We know children aren’t important to all people because children don’t vote.”

Although children in some other parts of the country might not be insured, in Pennsylvania, children in households earning less than $51,580 are eligible for coverage at no cost. It is unclear whether the close to 50 students in Howze’s summer program were aware of the benefits available to them as they stood chanting and holding signs calling for dental, vision and prescription coverage.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program offers immunizations, routine check-ups, prescription drugs, dental care, vision care and eyeglasses, maternity care, mental health benefits, up to 90 days of hospitalization per year, substance abuse treatment, partial hospitalization for mental health services, rehabilitation therapies and home health care for children under the age of 19.

While Howze was not personally aware which of these benefits were covered under the CHIP program, she said the rally was not just for uninsured children in Pennsylvania but an effort to help children in other states. She said it was important for her “scholars,” ranging in age from 10 to 15 years old, to be engaged in this type of activism.

Another issue Howze identified was the process of applying for CHIP, which she said is the reason some children who are eligible aren’t covered.

“It needs to be seamless so it’s not as difficult for families to be involved; there’s a lot of paperwork. We want it to be as simple as possible so parents don’t get discouraged,” Howze said. “We’re intelligent enough to break it down so it’s not discouraging to parents, so it’s in the language of parents, not the language of the health care system, so that it’s readable.”

Simplifying the process is one of the goals of CDF and includes automatically enrolling children at junctures such as birth, school enrollment and health visits if they are found eligible. The organization also wants children to be presumed eligible for care instead of having to wait until an application is processed.

Melissa Fox, deputy press secretary of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, said parents can apply by printing out an online application and sending it in or filling out the application directly online. Parents are also able to fill out the application over the phone with the help of a representative.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we have collaborated with the Department of Public Welfare, which runs the Medical Assistance/Medicaid program, to use one application for both programs, CHIP and MA,” Fox said. “We do this so that if someone applies for MA, but is really CHIP eligible (and vice versa), a second application will not need to be completed and the original application is sent to the appropriate program.”

Another goal of CDF is to see an eligibility floor of 300 percent of the federal poverty line established nationally. This has already been established in Pennsylvania, which means even children in families of four making up to $66,150 per year are eligible for coverage at a low cost premium.

In February, President Barack Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, a bill that was previously vetoed by President George W. Bush. This measure increased federal funding for CHIP programs nationally and raised the eligibility floor to 400 percent of the federal poverty line.

However, states are not mandated to raise the eligibility floor of their program and in some states the requirement can be as low as 250 percent. States such as California have been unable to raise the requirement because they are facing a budget deficit and might actually have to cut coverage

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