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Report: Expanding CHIP to public employees would save state money

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Extending CHIP health coverage to eligible children of public employees could save state and local government millions of dollars, depending on how many actually enrolled, according to a report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will consider expanding CHIP coverage, a spokeswoman said.

The Affordable Care Act includes a lesser-known provision allowing states to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to public employees' children who are eligible under the program's income guidelines. The CHIP program was formerly closed to state and local employees' families.

"We do anticipate that this is going to save money for state and local governments and save households money," said Brandon Merritt, a health policy analyst for WVCBP, a nonpartisan policy research organization.

Just how much money is saved depends on how many eligible children are enrolled.

If all 8,800 CHIP-eligible children currently enrolled in the Public Employees Insurance Agency switched to CHIP, state and local governments could save $6.7 million a year, and PEIA member families could save $4.7 million a year, according to the report. But if the participation rate was lower -- 21.4 percent -- which is the same as the current CHIP take-up rate, around 1,880 would enroll in CHIP and state and local governments would save $1.4 million, the report finds. Member families would save $1 million a year, according to the report.

CHIP is currently open to children in families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty line --$70,650 for a family of four -- and who are under the age of 19, with the exception of state and local government employees' children.

Tomblin has the authority to expand the coverage to state and local employees, but as of yet, has not done so.

"Prior to the passage of the ACA this was something that could not be considered," Tomblin's spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said in an email to the Gazette. "The CHIP board will need to file a state plan amendment. This is something we will consider."

Merritt said, in a sense, public employees who are otherwise eligible for CHIP are being discriminated against. They may not enroll in the program but others who make the same amount they do, can.

PEIA is funded through state or local governments and program participants. CHIP is funded mostly through the federal government and a smaller portion is paid by the state and participants.

The federal government currently pays 80 percent of the cost of every West Virginia CHIP participant. That rate will increase to 100 percent in 2016.

The local and state share for a CHIP participant is $32.36 a month, compared to $95.84 a month for PEIA.

The cost to participants is also lower for CHIP members. PEIA members pay $49.50 a month, whereas CHIP participants only pay $4.69 a month for health insurance.

CHIP director Sharon Carte, who spoke about expansion to the PEIA board in March, supports the idea, Merritt said. Carte was not available for comment Wednesday.

Expanding CHIP to public employees also has union support. UE Local 170, the state public workers union, released a statement Wednesday calling on Tomblin to request federal approval to expand CHIP coverage to eligible children of West Virginia public workers.

"This is a win-win for the state and its hard-working public employees, who haven't received a wage increase in years and are living paycheck to paycheck," Donna Morgan, UE Local 170 president, said in a written statement. "At a time when the state is having a difficult time balancing its budget, why wouldn't it want to save millions of dollars by expanding CHIP coverage to public employees?" she said.

Read the entire report here.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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