HARRISBURG, Aug. 20, 2013 – As more Pennsylvania children continue to drop from the rolls of the state’s landmark Children’s Health Insurance Program, a unified Senate Democratic Caucus urged the governor today to take immediate action to correct the problem.

The caucus – led by Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vince Hughes and Sens. Mike Stack and Shirley Kitchen – said the state should streamline CHIP’s renewal process by: starting “presumptive eligibility,” requiring the state’s CHIP program to interface with the free- and reduced-school lunch databases, and better promoting the program, among other recommendations.

“According to the monthly enrollment data produced by the Insurance Department, there was a decrease in CHIP enrollment of 7,726 children from July 2011 to July 2013,” the caucus’ letter to the governor said. “The largest loss of enrollment is in the free CHIP program.”

Additionally, as CHIP enrollment has dropped, the caucus said more than 98,000 children lost coverage through the Medical Assistance program between August 2011 and this past November.

The caucus said it believes CHIP enrollment is dropping due to administrative changes and the failure by the Insurance Department to employ best practices in its operation.

“What’s happening with CHIP in Pennsylvania means more working moms and dads are being forced to make tough choices with their budgets,” said Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). “No one should have to decide whether their paycheck will buy food, prescription medicine or the mortgage. But that seems to be what is happening more and more under this administration.”

“The drop in numbers should be a warning siren all by itself that changes are not working and corrective steps need to happen because our children are losing the care they need,” said Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Philadelphia). “I urge Gov. Corbett to make the changes we are suggesting. They should be quick and easy to do. Our working families should not have to wait any longer.”

In addition to starting “presumptive eligibility” and the other suggestions mentioned, the caucus said the Corbett administration should:

  • Make health insurance screening/referral processes a part of school registration.
  • Include a check-off box for insurance on the CHIP Really flyer that is sent to parents at beginning of each school year. Parents would sign and return the form each year.
  • Change renewal notices to 90 and 45 days (currently, 90 and 60 days).
  • Use a joint application and renewal form for Medicaid and CHIP.

“Doing these simple things will ensure that working families who can’t afford to pay for health insurance themselves will be able to provide health insurance to their children,” said Sen. Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia). “Other states have adopted many of these best practices. It’s time for Pennsylvania to make these improvements and ensure that each eligible child gets CHIP coverage.”

The caucus said it hopes the governor will accept the proposed changes in the spirit of bipartisanship and added it is ready to work with the administration to improve CHIP, which was started in 1992 by Gov. Robert P. Casey and quickly became a model that other states and the federal government followed.

“Children are our most valuable resources,” Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia) said. “They are not a way to balance a budget or ever be used to gain an advantage or prove a point. Our children – and their working parents – need help. Let’s help them now.”