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MBJ Extra!

State legislators recently approved a bill that would ensure health care coverage for Mississippi youth — a move that could help avert illness and afflictions that inhibit our youth from reaching their full potential.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will provide Mississippi’s uninsured youth adequate health care coverage. Federal funding of $56 million will be made available. The state of Mississippi will have to match $10.7 million to receive these funds; a small initial investment for a program that has the potential to reap long-term benefits for the state. So far, $3.9 million has been approved by the state to begin this much needed program.

Although the program won the approval of the Legislature, who will administer the program — private insurance companies or Medicaid — is still to be determined. State Medicaid director Helen Wetherbee supports using private insurance companies to manage the program and recommends that it not be an expansion of Medicaid. Past attempts to expand the government-regulated entity have failed. In addition, a Medicaid expansion could take a considerable length of time.

Viable private insurance programs providing comprehensive coverage are available and in place throughout the state. These existing managed care programs have existing infrastructure and capacity to provide comprehensive health care coverage to the state’s uninsured children through the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Under these managed care plans, children could be assured coverage at no additional cost to families.

The main focus of managed care programs has been and continues to be on preventative health care. Preventative health care is increasingly becoming a necessity since many terminal childhood illnesses can be cured or suppressed if detected in time.

Nearly 35,000 of our youth who live below or at the poverty level are uninsured. The Children’s Health Insurance Program will provide adequate access to commonly accepted standards of preventative medical care to Mississippi’s uninsured youth. However, who’s named gatekeeper of the program is still left to be resolved.

Ted Cheatham is executive director of Phoenix Healthcare of Mississippi, an HMO providing a variety of health-related services in 23 Mississippi counties.

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