By Suzanne Wilke
New federal dollars for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – combined with a renewed commitment to children’s health care by Kansas lawmakers – has put Kansas on the road to insuring more kids. Right now,at least 58,000 children in the Sunflower State are growing up without health coverage. Two-thirds of those children are eligible but not enrolled in HealthWave (our state’s Medicaid and CHIP program). It’s a trend that’s common in states across the country.
But, new tools in the federal CHIP legislation will make the road to increased enrollment easier to travel for many states. In addition to these tools, Kansas will implement two additional vehicles in January that stand to drive HealthWave enrollment: (1) eligibility forHealthWave will expand from 200% to 250% of poverty; and (2) a new contractor will begin overseeing eligibility at the state’s clearinghouse. Increased eligibility has proven to produce a “welcome mat” effect in other states, where the majority of new children that sign up for health coverage were already eligible before the expansion.After an expansion in Illinois, 74% of new enrollees were found to be eligible prior to the expansion and, in Wisconsin, 83% had already been eligible.
However, we know that enrolling kids is only half the trek. Equally important is making sure they re-enroll. With a new contractor handling applications, it may prompt the state to look at ways to simplify the process for Kansas families. Nationally, we know that nearly half of children who are eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP had been enrolled, but lost coverage at the time of renewal. Only a small fraction of children lose coverage due to ineligibility. Most simply don’t receive the paperwork because their family has moved or they are unable to continue gathering the necessary documentation each year. Most of the information needed for renewal can be found through other databases in the state, so simplifying this process for families can go a long way toward retaining coverage for children.
In Kansas, we’re working now on a roadmap that should lead to more kids getting the health care they need at a price their parents can afford. A group of stakeholders will be meeting throughout the summer months to talk about the roadblocks that are specific to our state, and they will be developing a set of steps Kansas can take to maximize the newopportunities.It may be a long and bumpy road, but with a healthier future on the horizon, it’s a trip worth taking.
Suzanne Wilke is the Director of Health Policy for the Kansas Action for Children.