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Health advocates encourage parents to sign children up for insurance

| Sunday, May 6, 2001

It isn't too good to be true.

That's what advocates of the Pennsylvania Children's Health Insurance Program want parents to know.

Even though CHIP can provide health care for children, either for free or at a greatly reduced cost, there are an estimated 4,725 kids in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties who don't have medical coverage.

Cornerstone Care, a regional health agency based in Greensboro, Greene County, has worked with schools and other social service agencies to promote the state program.

'Our project is about health insurance, the primary gateway to getting health care itself,' said Richard Rinehart, director of operations and development at Cornerstone.

CHIP isn't just for the poor (the poorest families access child health coverage through Medicaid). A family of four can have an annual income of up to $35,300 for free CHIP coverage, and up to $40,068 for low-cost coverage. DeCarlo said the premium for the low-cost program was about $20 per month for each child. Children from birth to age 19 may be eligible.

Conchetta Masocotti depends on CHIP for health coverage for her daughter, Briana. She said she and her husband are able to live comfortably on their income, but couldn't afford high insurance premiums.

The state program is funded with cigarette taxes. Three different private insurers participate, under the names Aetna Chip, Blue Cross Chip and Med+Chip.

CHIP coverage can be better than the insurance plans provided through many employers. There are no co-payments for prescriptions or doctor visits.

Crystal Nighswander, a single mother, had insurance through her previous employer, but it didn't include a 'rider' to cover the allergy shots her son Jonathan, 8, requires. By signing up for the CHIP program, Nighswander was able to get the serum prescription.

Nighswander is now employed at Cornerstone at the Greensboro office as a community health worker for Greene and Washington counties.

'My children had been on (CHIP) for 1 &*#189; years. I had firsthand experience with the program,' Nighswander said.

Jonathan and his sister, Samantha, 4, are still covered by CHIP.

Nighswander and her Cornerstone counterpart in Fayette County, Sarah DeCarlo, work to get the word out on the program.

DeCarlo said the school districts have been an important referral partner in Fayette County.

But the program remains a secret to many eligible families.

'Despite the outreach, some people haven't heard about it,' Rinehart said.

'I suspect that it's one of those things. You may hear the message but it might not register.'

There can also be an unwarranted stigma attached to the program, according to CHIP officials.

Applications are available through a number of state agencies. Reinhart said Cornerstone has an outreach role, promoting the CHIP program and helping people cut through any red tape. Cindy Holcomb is the social services coordinator of the outreach effort.

The CHIP application process is painless. 'Everything is done through the mail,' Cornerstone officials noted.

For more information on CHIP in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, call (866) 252-5437.

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