Since reaching an all-time low in 2016, the rate of uninsured children has climbed from 4.7 percent in 2016 to 5.7 percent in 2019. In response, several state legislatures are considering bills designed to improve children’s coverage options and promote child enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Program and Enrollment Expansions
One of the most notable efforts to expand children’s coverage was included in New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s fiscal year 2022 budget, which establishes the Cover All Kids initiative to provide coverage to all uninsured children. At an estimated cost of $20 million, it is forecasted to cover 88,000 children by expanding Medicaid eligibility thresholds and extending coverage to children currently ineligible due to immigration status.
The Cover All Kids program aligns with initiatives previously proposed by New Jersey advocates and legislators to ensure all children have coverage. The governor’s proposed budget also directs the Department of Human Services to eliminate premiums and the waiting list for children enrolled in CHIP and provides funds for an enhanced outreach campaign to increase Medicaid and CHIP child enrollment.
In Utah, lawmakers considered two children’s coverage bills during this session. In 2019, Utah had the third-highest increase in the rate of uninsured children and the highest rate of uninsured Latinx children in the country. In response to these troubling statistics, the Utah Legislature passed HB262, which creates the Children’s Health Care Coverage program. This program directs the Utah Department of Health, Department of Workforce Services, and the state Board of Education to develop a program to promote health insurance coverage for children when they enroll in school and when they apply for free and reduced lunch.
The Utah law also requires the state to:
- Conduct research on families who are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP to determine their awareness of coverage options;
- Analyze trends in disenrollment to identify barriers for coverage renewal; and
- Administer surveys to gather information about current enrollees’ experiences with the programs.
Findings from this research will be used to redesign the CHIP and children’s Medicaid enrollment websites and inform future outreach partnerships.
Another Utah bill, SB158, designed to address the state’s coverage crisis through the creation of a robust outreach program, focused on enrolling underserved populations, providing application assistance, and launching an advertising campaign to draw attention to coverage opportunities for children. In addition, the bill would have expanded public coverage to children whose family income fell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Despite senate approval, the bill did not pass.
Like Utah, Florida experienced a dramatic increase in childhood uninsured rates since 2016. The Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute 2020 report found that more than 55,000 Florida children had lost coverage between 2016 and 2019, representing the second-highest coverage drop in the nation during that period. Florida legislators are currently considering HB 201 and SB 1244, both of which would increase the eligibility threshold for their CHIP program from 200 percent of FPL incrementally by 20 percent each year beginning in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, until reaching 300 percent of FPL, which is expected in the 2026-2027 fiscal year.
In Maine, legislators are considering LD 372, a bill to expand access to CHIP. The bill includes provisions to:
- Expand income eligibility from 200 to 300 percent of FPL;
- Eliminate the waiting period for children whose families have lost employer-sponsored coverage;
- Extend coverage eligibility from age 19 to 20; and
- Eliminate premium payments for all enrollees.
Last week, the Georgia Legislature passed HB 163, which directs the Department of Community Health to seek federal approval to establish express-lane-eligibility (ELE) for children whose families apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). By implementing the ELE option, children will automatically be enrolled or renewed in Medicaid or the state’s CHIP program, PeachCare for Kids, based on the current information provided in their SNAP application. State child health advocates estimate that this could increase child enrollment in Medicaid in the state by 70,000. Currently, five states use SNAP data to determine eligibility for Medicaid and/or CHIP.
CHIP Buy-in Programs:
Legislators in Iowa and West Virginia are considering bills to create CHIP buy-in programs, which allow families with incomes above their state’s CHIP eligibility thresholds to purchase coverage.
Iowa’s SF220 would allow families to purchase CHIP coverage for children and young adults up to age 26 whose household income exceeds the maximum income eligibility threshold of 302 percent of FPL. Iowa’s CHIP-buy in plan differs from traditional CHIP buy-in programs as it would allow families to purchase CHIP coverage for their children as an alternative to qualified health plans on the exchange or plans on the individual market — which unlike CHIP are not tailored to children’s needs.
The CHIP coverage would be sold through the marketplace, allowing families to compare their coverage options, and could be paid for with premium tax credits for eligible enrollees. If passed, the state would need federal approval to implement the plan.
West Virginia’s HB2278 would establish a buy-in program for children’s whose families earn more than 300 percent of FPL and could afford to pay the cost of CHIP coverage in full.
Despite states continuing to grapple with managing the COVID-19 pandemic, many are still seeking to improve coverage for children in Medicaid and CHIP. The National Academy for State Health Policy continues to track states’ efforts to increase enrollment in children’s coverage in Medicaid and CHIP.