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Editorial: Expanding children's health program eligibility is fair step

Aug. 25, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

A plan announced last week by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin could mean significant savings for state government and local government agencies, plus provide thousands of West Virginia children with better health insurance coverage, according to backers of the proposal.

Whether the plan comes to fruition is dependent on the federal government approving Tomblin's request for a waiver to rules that prohibit dependents of public employees from enrolling in the West Virginia Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. That program provides coverage for low-income families or for families who have recently lost their health insurance, and nearly 25,000 children from the Mountain State already are enrolled in it.

But until now, public employees receiving health insurance coverage from the state's Public Employees Insurance Agency were not eligible to enroll their children in CHIP, even if they met all other requirements including income limits. Officials say the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, makes the waiver possible because it will allow the state to consider including people who receive some coverage through PEIA, according to Tomblin.

We see no good reason for the double standard that bars state employees who otherwise meet requirements from enrolling their dependents, and we hope the federal government will see it the same way. Tomblin said he expects an answer to his waiver request by Jan. 1. If approved, eligible state employees could enroll their children starting next summer, the governor said.

If that indeed happens, the number of children with PEIA coverage would likely decrease, saving state government and local governments anywhere from $1.4 million to $6.7 million a year in paying portions of those premiums, according to a report produced by the public policy organization West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The actual savings would depend on how many children were switched from PEIA to CHIP.

State employees who enroll their children in CHIP also stand to save anywhere from a combined $1 million to $4.7 million on premiums, depending on how many are enrolled, according to the Center on Budget and Policy. The center estimates that as many as 8,800 children would be eligible for the switch if the waiver is granted.

Many policymakers in Charleston have focused much attention in recent months on the welfare of the state's children, particularly those who are in lower-income families. Nutrition, health care and safe, strong homes have been among the topics of concern. While not all state employees are hurting financially, many do fall within the income guidelines allowed for participation in CHIP.

Allowing this change will be one more step toward improving the well-being of many children and their families.



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