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Let the CHIPs fall

The good news is that Allen and Kosciusko counties will share a $1 million grant aimed at enrolling uninsured children in the federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Program.

There’s bad news, too: Those northeast Indiana counties are among eight targeted because of slow enrollment growth in Medicaid, low per-capita income and lack of primary care providers.

CHIP is a full-service health plan for children, with premiums and co-pays based on family income. It’s a success story among federal programs targeting poverty.

“Research shows children who have health insurance are healthier and do better in school – a sick child cannot learn,” said Norma Napoli, deputy director of Covering Kids & Families of Indiana, a nonprofit group aimed at ensuring access for Hoosier families.

The grant, however, does recognize strong programs already in place to connect families with coverage. Community Action of Northeast Indiana is the region’s enrollment administrator for Hoosier Healthwise, the umbrella program that includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Program supervisor Paige Wilkins and her outreach assistants continually work to help families enroll and renew their eligibility.

The new grant, provided through the Affordable Care Act, will allow CANI to add an enrollment coordinator in both Allen and Kosciusko counties, Wilkins said.

In addition to CANI, enrollment centers include area hospitals and some nonprofit agencies, including East Wayne Street Center and SCAN. CANI’s outreach efforts focus on schools, where information is included in registration packets, applications for free- and reduced-price lunch programs and more.

Statewide, just more than 8 percent of Indiana children are uninsured. Napoli said estimates show that close to 13,000 children in Allen County are eligible for Hoosier Healthwise but not enrolled.

Once enrolled, some families lose eligibility because they don’t realize they must re-enroll each year, Wilkins said.

“A lot of the Medicaid population – not all, but a lot – are transient,” she said. “They move and don’t get the notice that they must recertify. If they are on food stamps, they have to recertify for that every six months, so they sometimes reapply for that and don’t realize they have to do the same for Hoosier Healthwise.”

The information challenge will only grow greater as more pieces of the federal health care act go into effect. Covering Kids & Families has applied for another federal grant and should learn in mid-August whether it will have additional resources to help low-income families navigate the new system.

With young families continually becoming eligible for assistance, there’s a never-ending need to provide information and enrollment help. It’s important work, however. Ensuring parents have access to health care saves money in the long run. Children who are healthy miss fewer days of schools and perform better in class. In turn, they are more likely to succeed in school and become productive, tax-paying residents who no longer need assistance.