A day for the children
A new state law eliminating a six-month waiting period for children to enroll in the state Children's Health Insurance Program took effect immediately after Gov. Tom Corbett signed it last week.
The law means low-income children no longer have to be without health insurance or "go bare" for six months before they can enroll in CHIP, even when their families meet the income eligibility guidelines.
For all the hoopla surrounding the law's passage, the actual number of children directly affected by the lift of the waiting period is relatively small - 206 children have been waiting, compared to 188,000 low-income children currently enrolled in CHIP, according to state officials.
However, lawmakers said they've been hearing from constituents about the wait, especially as more employers switch to providing coverage for only employees rather than traditional family coverage.
State officials say the wait requirement has been a huge deterrent that stopped many families from even applying for CHIP coverage in the first place.
Many families have been reluctant to have their child go without insurance for six months due to concerns about a sudden health emergency during that period, said Sen. Don White, R-41, Indiana, chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
The wait period was originally written into state law so that employers or consumers wouldn't drop existing coverage just to enter the CHIP program. It has applied to the versions of CHIP providing for low-cost and full-cost coverage, but not free coverage.
"This is a day about our children," said Corbett as he signed the CHIP law.
Also at the Capitol that day, the Senate approved an additional five child protection bills, part of a comprehensive effort to overhaul the whole system for protecting children from abusive situations in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The House approved a measure to require that parents report the disappearance of their child within 24 hours or face criminal penalties. The bill sponsored by Rep. Karen Boback, R-117, Harveys Lake, provides some safeguards against prosecution for innocent mistakes such as a divorced parent not knowing of their child's whereabouts.
(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.)