Number of Pennsylvanians needing help affording insurance continues to grow

PITTSBURGH — More than a year into the pandemic, the number of families needing the government’s help to afford insurance in Pennsylvania continues to grow.

Take Olive Perry and her brother Nathan’s family. The kids love spending time outside in the treehouse their dad built, but Olive has to watch her asthma.

“Once a year, we have to go to the hospital because of her breathing issues,” said her dad, Steve.

That visit is covered under the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. That’s what Steve’s kids are on. As a Ph.D. student with a small stipend to support his family of four, he turned to government health insurance.

“That makes a huge difference in terms of finances when you’re trying to decide what are you going to do here,” said Steve.

The State Department of Human Services tells Channel 11 enrollment in CHIP has steadily decreased since the beginning of the pandemic. They think it’s because more families have moved from CHIP to Medicaid because with a lower income, they now qualify for it.

In turn, Medicaid enrollment has steadily increased. The state also notes that it is not taking anyone off of Medicaid, per federal policy.

Enrollment for medical assistance in Pennsylvania has gone up nearly 15% since the pandemic started.

“We know that some children are insured, but we know that many others might not be reached right now just because they don’t know that they’re eligible,” said Laura Stephany, health policy manager for Allies for Children.

Allies for Children is a local children’s advocacy non-profit. Stephany wants to make sure families know what they qualify for.

CHIP is for kids up to 19 who are not eligible for Medicaid and need insurance, no matter how much money their parents make.

Medicaid is based on income. In Pennsylvania, the cutoff is at or below 133% of the federal poverty level.

“Don’t be afraid to get CHIP, don’t be afraid if Medicaid is where you’re at, it’s where you’re at,” said Steve. “You have to take care of your family.”

The Department of Human Services runs both programs in Pennsylvania.