State workers might get CHIP

2010-07-12T23:04:00Z 2010-07-12T23:18:02Z State workers might get CHIPMIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
July 12, 2010 11:04 pm  • 

HELENA — State employees aren’t eligible to enroll their children in a portion of Healthy Montana Kids, the government-funded health insurance plan for low- and middle-income families, but that may change soon.

The federal health reform bill passed by Congress in March gives states the option of allowing their employees’ children to be eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, or CHIP, one of two government-financed health plans that make up Healthy Montana Kids.

Montana health officials said Monday that the state has asked the federal government how to take advantage of this option, thus allowing its workers to sign up their kids for CHIP.

Once the federal government offers more guidance, the state expects to amend its CHIP plan to allow state workers’ kids to qualify.

CHIP is available to families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or $45,800 for a family of three.

Montana state workers have their own health insurance subsidized by the state but usually have to pay extra to cover other family members. Under CHIP, coverage for their children would be free.

Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, a vocal supporter of Healthy Montana Kids, said it’s good news that the state is seeking to end the ban on state workers using CHIP.

People with entry-level wages may not be able to afford the extra payments to cover their kids, she said.

Healthy Montana Kids, an expansion of government health insurance for kids, was approved by Montana voters in 2008. Only about 6,600 kids have been added to its rolls since it began last October, far short of the 30,000 additional kids that supporters hoped for by year’s end.

Caferro said allowing state workers to sign up for the program could expand its use.

She also said the state should implement “presumptive eligibility,” a streamlining of the sign-up process for Healthy Montana Kids that is allowed by law.

State health officials said last week that they may look at presumptive eligibility later this year, after continuing to work out some other wrinkles in the program.

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