Health of­fi­cials worry about pro­gram’s fu­ture

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - FRONT PAGE - BY JON O’CON­NELL

Fed­eral fund­ing for the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro g ram 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 ear n 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, D-Pa., dur­ing a roundtable talk Wed­nes­day in a Moses Taylor Hospi­tal board room.

Fail­ing to ap­prove fund­ing could cut in­sur­ance cov­er­age for more than 7,000 chil­dren in Car­bon, Luzerne and Schuylkill coun­ties, of­fi­cials say.

Statewide, nearly 177,000 chil­dren­could 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-121, 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 be gin 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, Lack­awanna County, once ended her own doc­tor vis­its to save money for her two sons’ health care.

Now that they have their ow n 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 pro g ram, State Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram, SCHIP.

He is urg­ing Penn­syl­va­ni­ans to im­plore their rep­re­sen­ta­tives to fund CHIP by next week.

JAKE DANNA STEVENS / TIMES-SHAMROCK

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey leaves Moses Taylor Hospi­tal af­ter hold­ing a meet­ing about the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram in Scran­ton on Wed­nes­day.

JAKE DANNA STEVENS / TIMES-SHAMROCK

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., holds a meet­ing about the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram at Moses Taylor Hospi­tal in Scran­ton on Wed­nes­day. He was joined by state leg­is­la­tors, health professionals and res­i­dents.

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