25 Years of Children’s Health Insurance Program CHIP Impact / Public News Service

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the children’s health insurance program, known as CHIP, which in California is part of Medi-Cal.

The program is a resounding success. 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.

Even though most children are healthy, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University, it’s too great a risk to go without health insurance.

“So any gap in coverage for children 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 thrive.”

The state legislature has steadily improved Medi-Cal by making undocumented children eligible in 2016 and eliminating all premiums beginning July 1.

Alexandra Parma, senior policy research associate at the First 5 Center for Children’s Policy, said California is working to get federal approval to allow children to stay on Medi-Cal from birth to age. 5 years old.

“The change would allow children to be continuously enrolled in Medi-Cal until their fifth birthday,” she said, “so they don’t have to do those annual refills like under the previous policy.”

Sarah Crow, chief executive of First 5, said the program’s biggest flaw is that too few doctors accept Medi-Cal, resulting in long wait times to see existing providers.

“We have too few providers that accept Medi-Cal because of the very low payment rates offered to the MediCal program,” she said, “so that’s where the program suffers.”

Crow advised parents to make sure the county Medi-Cal office has a current address on file, so no one loses coverage. The state has delayed sending out annual renewal notices during COVID, but that will change once the pandemic state of emergency is lifted.

Disclosure: The Georgetown University Center for Children & Families contributes to our Children’s Issues and Health Issues Reporting Fund. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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