Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - A perception about health insurance for children in Pennsylvania is that things are worse than they actually are.
A poll done for the Georgetown Center for Children and Families shows most people assume that more kids are uninsured and live in poverty since the recession. However, Joan Benso, director and chief executive of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said only one in 20 children in the state isn't covered by health insurance.
Pennsylvania helped lead the nation, Benso said, by forming its own Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1992, five years before the federal government followed suit.
"When the federal law passed in 1997," she said, "we had over 45,000 kids on a waiting list in Pennsylvania that, as soon as we had a federal partnership, we could open the door and let in. And today, we serve over 180,000 children in the CHIP program, and more than a million in Medicaid."
Pennsylvania's number of uninsured children dropped by another 5,000 between 2010 and 2012. However, the state remains a holdout in terms of Medicaid expansion. Gov. Tom Corbett is asking the Obama administration to let the state use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to pay the premiums for newly eligible adults to get private insurance in the new health insurance marketplace.
Benso said Medicaid expansion would help more Pennsylvania families gain health insurance coverage.
"Families use coverage more effectively," she said. "They're more likely to have those routine visits. They're more likely to have an ongoing relationship with a health care provider, if the whole family is insured."
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, said outreach and efficiency go a long way in places where children's health insurance programs are working best.
"States that have done a really good job of streamlining their program, reducing the red tape, making families feel welcome - and have covered their parents - are going to have much lower rates of uninsured kids," she said.
The report and poll are online at ccf.georgetown.edu.