This week marks the 25th anniversary of the children’s health insurance program known as CHIP, which is part of Medi-Cal in California.
The program was very successful. In 2020, only 3.6% of children in the Golden State were uninsured. Medi-Cal and CHIP serve nearly 5.5 million children in the state.
Although most children are healthy, said Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, not having health insurance is too big a risk.
“So any gap in child coverage is a problem for families and a problem for our country as a whole,” she said. “It pays huge dividends to ensure children have access to health insurance so they can grow up healthy and prosperous.”
State legislatures have steadily improved Medi-Cal by making undocumented children eligible in 2016 and eliminating all premiums as of July 1st.
Alexandra Parma, senior policy resource associate at the First 5 Center for Children’s Policy, said California is working to get federal approval to allow children from birth through age 5 to remain on Medi-Cal.
“The change would allow children to be continuously enrolled in Medi-Cal until their fifth birthday,” she said, “so they wouldn’t have to do those annual renewals like they did under the previous policy.”
First 5 chief executive Sarah Crow said the program’s biggest flaw is too few doctors accepting Medi-Cal, resulting in long waits to see existing providers.
“We have too few providers that accept Medi-Cal because of the very low payment rates that are offered for the MediCal program,” she said, “that’s what the program suffers from.”
Crow advised parents to make sure the Medi-Cal County Office has a current address on file so that no one loses insurance coverage. The state has held back from sending out annual renewal notices during COVID, but that will change once the pandemic’s state of emergency is lifted.
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