Until recently many working parents in Mississippi simply didn’t make enough money to be able to purchase health insurance coverage for their children. The net result was large numbers of children in the state without health insurance and, as a result, access to good medical care. That has changed with the implementation of a new program called CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“This program will be of extreme interest to employers who employ workers who have children that might qualify,” said Phil Hardwick, vice president of community and economic development, Mississippi Valley Gas Company. “Health insurance, as you know, is becoming a major issue in the business world. From my standpoint as a business executive, it is wonderful to learn that many of our employees’ children will now have health insurance. They didn’t have it before because the employee felt that dependent coverage was too expensive.”
CHIP is designed to help families who can’t afford private health insurance, but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.
“CHIP, which is being administered by participating states, is a very beneficial program that seeks to help an all-too-often overlooked segment of society, working families who struggle each week to make ends meet,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale, who serves on the program’s Advisory Board and Committee.
Dale said the program allows families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level (about $33,400 annually for a family of four) to apply for health benefits for their children up through age 18. Dale encouraged families that may be eligible for the program to enroll their children as soon as possible.
Jane Boykin, president of the Mississippi Forum on Children and Families, said that CHIP will help children caught in the gap in families that make too much to quality for welfare but not enough to purchase health insurance.
“CHIP is an answer to a prayer for these families,” Boykin said. “Having well children is one of the most important things we can do to improve the academic excellence of schools, increase graduation rates from high school, and improve the quality of our work force.
“In the long-term it will be better for economic development. I think it will be a big plus for employers who will see less absenteeism from parents who have to stay home with sick children. It is one of the best win-win situations we’ve ever been confronted with in Mississippi. It will be good for children, good for families, good for education and good for business. You couldn’t ask for more.”
Employees will need fewer days off to take care of sick children because the children will have access to preventative health care and regular treatments. Another potential advantage is that in the future employers may be able to enlarge their insurance risk pool, and therefore reduce premiums for all employees. This would be possible through a state regulation allowing the use of CHIP money to add children to employer coverage.
It is estimated that between 65,000 to 85,000 Mississippi children may be eligible for the program. Application forms are available at county health departments, and trained health department staff will be available to help families complete the necessary forms. Families who may be eligible to participate in CHIP can find out more about the program as well as obtain applications at county human services offices, community health centers, rural health clinics and Head Start centers. Some hospitals and private clinics are also making the information available.
Information and an application are also available by calling the toll-free number, 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877-543-669). A certified copy of the child’s birth certificate, proof of family income, as well as the child’s Social Security number must accompany CHIP applications.
The state Department of Human Services will determine if applicants are eligible for CHIP or for Medicaid. To be approved for CHIP, children must have been uninsured for at least six months and be ineligible for Medicaid.
With CHIP low-income working families who have higher income levels than those who are eligible for Medicaid can qualify. CHIP is available to all children under the age of 19 in families with less than 200% of the federal poverty level who are currently uninsured and not eligible for Medicaid. Families with higher incomes are encouraged to apply as some deductions are allowed before determining eligibility. There is no premium for any family and only minimal cost-sharing for families earning between 150% and 200% of the federal poverty level.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.