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CHIP may be expanded to include children of West Virginia public employees

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pending federal approval, children of West Virginia public employees will be eligible for health insurance coverage through the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday.

CHIP, which was formerly closed to the dependents of public employees, is available to them now under a provision in the Affordable Care Act.

Officials from WVCHIP will notify the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Sept. 1 of its intent to submit an amended state plan authorizing public employees to enroll their children in CHIP, according to a news release from Tomblin.

Officials anticipate getting approval to expand the program by Jan.1. If approved, CHIP will be open to eligible PEIA members beginning July 1, 2014. 

"The good health of our children is of the utmost importance," Tomblin said in a written statement. "Through this opportunity, we are seeking to protect and improve our children's quality of life and future by providing a more affordable insurance option for their families."

A recent report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a left-leaning think tank, said that allowing public employees to switch coverage for their children from PEIA to CHIP would save local and state governments as well as families money.

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

Public employees wishing to enroll in the program would still need to meet income guidelines.

Besides the Center on Budget and Policy, the state public workers union, UE Local 170, also supported the expansion.

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


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