State continues children’s health program – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG — In a gridlocked state Capitol, legislators and Gov. Tom Wolf have at least been able to agree on one thing: health insurance for children.

On Sunday, the governor signed a bill to extend CHIP — the Children’s Health Insurance Program — which provides free or low-cost health insurance to about 150,000 children in the commonwealth. The bill was approved unanimously by both the House and Senate. The program, which has generally enjoyed broad bipartisan support, would have expired Dec. 31 if it hadn’t been extended.

The legislation that was signed into law also moves the administration of the program from the state’s Insurance Department to the Department of Human Services, which advocates say will mean more streamlined coverage for the thousands of children who move between the CHIP and Medicaid programs every month due to fluctuation in their family’s income.

The reauthorization also included provisions that advocacy groups wanted to reach more children who are uninsured.

So-called “express lane eligibility” means the state can use existing databases — such as those covering state-subsidized child care or food stamps — to determine eligibility for CHIP and let a family know a child can be insured. About 139,000 kids in Pennsylvania remain uninsured, according to an estimate from advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

“There is no reason a child in Pennsylvania needs to go without health insurance … that’s a fixable problem. This legislation is a big step toward fixing that,” said Michael Race, spokesman for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, which advocated for the bill.

“This move will streamline processes and reduce the bureaucracy for families throughout the commonwealth,” Mr. Wolf said in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. “This is an example of making sure that government is working in a way that best meets the needs of our citizens.”

Families enrolled in CHIP should not notice any changes in coverage or providers, said Ted Dallas, human services secretary.

More than 11,000 children in Allegheny County use CHIP.

Kate Giammarise:, 717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.