On occasion of 25th anniversary, CHIP advocates call for permanent funding / Public News Service

The federal children’s health insurance program helps support more than 200,000 West Virginia children insured.

Advocates said the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which turns 25 this week, is a lifeline for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t have access to employer-sponsored coverage.

Kelli Caseman, executive director of Think Kids West Virginia, explained that an emergency provision enacted during the pandemic meant that children who depended on the program had quality health care, no matter what job changes their parents experienced.

“And I don’t just mean government insurance, I mean all health care,” Caseman explained. “It really does cover preventive care. It covers exams for enrolled children, it covers follow-up, if there’s a need for specialized care, and it really meets parents and caregivers where they are.”

Caseman noted that the public health emergency declaration will expire in October. The federal government has said it will give states at least 60 days’ notice of the final deadline, so agencies can begin contacting families to ensure children don’t go without coverage.

She added that the program covers more than half of the nation’s African American and Hispanic children, and emphasized that raising awareness of upcoming changes and re-enrollment in these populations will be critical.

“Get the word out to families where they are — so information in schools, information in after-school programs,” Caseman urged. “So families know, hey, you have to re-enroll. That’s how you can do that.”

Caseman acknowledged that even before the pandemic, Mountain State faced challenges re-enrolling children. According to the West Virginia Budget and Policy Center, the state has always ranked in the top 10 among states by the number of residents living in poverty. Caseman noted that many children are transient.

“They may live with a parent who may be incarcerated, or they may take a job in another county,” Caseman said. “As they move, finding them and keeping them enrolled can be very difficult.”

Studies show children enrolled in the program see their doctor and dentist regularly and are less likely to visit emergency rooms.

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