Close call for children

Then-State Sen. Allen Kukovich in 2001.
Then-State Sen. Allen Kukovich in 2001. (File)
Posted: January 02, 2016

The Pennsylvania Children's Health Insurance Program has posted success stories on its website as evidence of its value. There's the story of the Allegheny County mother who needed acute care for premature twins; the 217-pound 10-year-old who lost 97 pounds with medical supervision; and the Philadelphia woman who said knowing her 4-year-old had health insurance gave her peace of mind when he played outside.

Despite such stories, Pennsylvania CHIP almost expired amid the legislature's inability to agree on a budget or almost anything else. Finally, in a rare display of bipartisanship, lawmakers passed a bill that included reauthorization of CHIP, and Gov. Wolf signed it on Dec. 20, just 11 days before the program would have officially died.

What a tragedy that would have been for a program that served as a model for the federal Children's Health Insurance Program. Gov. Robert P. Casey signed the law that created Pennsylvania CHIP in 1992. The federal program, which provides health insurance to children whose families can't afford private coverage but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, started in 1997.

The story of CHIP's birth has gotten somewhat mangled over the years. Appropriate credit has been given to former U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, who steered the legislation when she was in the state Senate. But perhaps because he isn't as well known as Schwartz, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2000 and governor in 2014, former state legislator Allen G. Kukovich hasn't gotten the same attention for his larger role.

The Westmoreland County Democrat began efforts to provide health insurance to children as a state representative in the late 1980s, but he made little progress until 1991. That was when State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), who chaired the Appropriations Committee, helped amend a bill that hiked the cigarette tax, diverting 2 cents of the increase per pack to children's health insurance. It has been money well spent.

CHIP provides health insurance for about 150,000 children in Pennsylvania, including 20,000 in Philadelphia and 27,000 in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Bucks Counties. But nearly 140,000 children still don't have medical coverage.

With CHIP, most policies are free or subsidized on a sliding scale based on family income. Families that don't qualify for subsidies can buy CHIP coverage at prices below those in the commercial market.

While it's good to see CHIP renewed, it's hard to applaud legislators who took so long to reauthorize it. The inaction is characteristic of a governing body that has also failed to adequately fund public education. It's true that taxpayers want legislators to be good stewards of their taxes. But effective lawmakers should be able to do that while properly providing for Pennsylvania's children.

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