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Child health insurance program gets $200K grant from National League of Cities

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 1:21 p.m.

Pittsburgh hopes to sign up at least 2,000 kids who are eligible, but not enrolled, in public health care programs.

The National League of Cities on Monday announced a $200,000 grant for Pittsburgh that will fund an outreach program to enroll children and families in Medicaid and Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“One of the big problems is people who qualify for Medicaid and CHIP sometimes don't know they qualify,” said Betty Cruz, Pittsburgh's nonprofit and faith-based manager. “Others who are enrolled, sometimes their child might be dropped out without them knowing.”

She said the $200,000 will be used over 18 months for marketing and to hire several staffers.

Officials estimate that 1,500 to 2,000 children in Pittsburgh are eligible but not enrolled in the programs. Cruz said the number could be as high as 4,000.

Medicaid, also known as medical assistance, is available for low-income families. CHIP provides free or reduced insurance coverage for Pennsylvanians 18 and younger, depending on income.

For example, children in a family of four earning $37,445 to $49,608 annually would receive free coverage, according to the state's CHIP website. A four-person household with an annual income of $68,688 would pay an average monthly premium of $71 per child.

Pennsylvania Insurance Department spokeswoman Melissa Fox said some people won't enroll because of a stigma associated with government assistance. Others just opt out of coverage.

“You can't force somebody to enroll their children if they don't want to,” she said.

Cruz said the city has partnered with the Allegheny County Health Department; Allies for Children, a North Side child advocacy group; and the Consumer Health Coalition, a North Side health care advocacy.

The group plans to capitalize on programs such as the city's 311 complaint hotline and events held by community groups to push enrollment. She said 311 operators, for example, could inform callers about CHIP and Medicaid while fielding complaints.

“We're taking about Beltzhoover, or Allentown, or the North Side, or Homewood or any part of the city where you'll actually find children who are not insured,” said Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children and a former city councilman. “It's something we feel is important and we're looking forward to this partnership.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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