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Report Finds 1 in 20 Pennsylvania Children Uninsured

More than twenty years after the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) became law, a new report finds that about 1 in 20 Pennsylvania children is still uninsured.

According to the second annual State of Children’s Healthcare in Pennsylvania report by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, or PPC, nearly 148,000 children in the state lack health insurance.

PPC President and CEO Joan Benso said many parents still don’t realize that coverage is available at low to no cost, or feel uncomfortable receiving government benefits.

But getting kids covered, said Benso, is just the beginning.

“In some situations we know that families have a hard time accessing a healthcare provider that will accept either their CHIP or Medicaid card,” said Benso. “Sometimes ... parents don’t understand the importance of preventive health service.”

Benso said preventive services are key to raising healthy kids in Pennsylvania.

“We need to stay out of emergency rooms, make sure our children get their well child visits, including dental care, get them immunized,” said Benso. “All this will lead to a much healthier set of kids in Pennsylvania and ultimately a stronger state.”

The PPC study found that children with low-income, uninsured parents are three times more likely to be uninsured than kids whose parents have coverage.

Benso said that is “one of the reasons we’re so interested in moving forward in a Medicaid expansion for low-income adults, or something … like the governor has proposed, a private market alternative to a Medicaid expansion, but using the federal dollars.”

The PPC report found that of about 274,000 uninsured Pennsylvania parents, nearly 131,000 of them would qualify for Medicaid if Pennsylvania expanded its coverage. Under Corbett’s plan, it is not yet clear how many uninsured Pennsylvanians would be able to afford insurance.

Benso said uninsured children cost the taxpayers more money than insured children, even when those children are covered under government programs like CHIP.

For example, when an uninsured child breaks her arm, said Benso, she still has to go to the emergency room.

“We pay those costs through higher costs of healthcare services for all of us, higher healthcare premiums, direct payments that are made to hospitals, appropriately so, by government for people who are uninsured,” she said.

Beyond increased healthcare costs, Benso said there are other societal costs to leaving kids uninsured.

“Kids who have health insurance are less likely to miss school, because they’re sick less, which means we spend less in remediation in education later, which we all pay for,” she said. “There are better outcomes for kids, but it just makes fiscal common sense.”

Benso said the recent elimination of the six-month waiting period for the CHIP program was a step in the right direction to getting more kids covered.

In the upcoming Medicaid expansion debate, she said PPC urges "lawmakers and the governor to work in an open and bipartisan way to come to a quick resolution for Pennsylvania’s kids and families so more get into coverage.”