For many children, access to health care a question of coverage

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 31, 2004

Statistics mean little to Jane, an attractive, soft-spoken 33-year-old who struggles to make ends meet.

She asked that her real name not be used, but Jane spoke openly about the frustrations of a part-time, minimum-wage job that provides no health-care insurance.

She and her family are among the more than 400,000 people under age 65 in Mississippi without health-care coverage.

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Jane, her husband and their two children, ages 7 and 9, moved to Natchez from a neighboring state so that she could be closer to her mother, who is ill.

&uot;My husband is trying to find a job. It’s hard,&uot; she said. &uot;The expenses, the bills, with two children in school, keeping the car maintained &045;&045; it is very hard.&uot;

Her husband worked for a manufacturing company before they moved to Natchez a year ago. His job provided health-care coverage for the family.

Now there is none. &uot;It’s scary,&uot; Jane said. &uot;It is bad knowing you might not be able to take care of them if they are sick.&uot;

Perhaps Jane’s family will be among the fortunate ones. Perhaps her husband will find a job with a company that will provide health-care coverage. With a loss of those kinds of jobs &045;&045; the ones that come with benefits &045;&045; in the area in recent years, those job-seekers face a competitive, uphill battle.

In any event, Jane had not heard of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and she is not alone among low-income parents in Mississippi in being unaware of the opportunities CHIP provides.

The program operates through the state Department of Human Services and a coalition of other agencies, public and private. Funds, both state and federal, are provided to the program through the Division of Medicaid. The Department of Human Services certifies eligibility.

Royal Hill of the AJFC Community Action Agency in Natchez knows plenty about the CHIP program. The agency’s Head Start program frequently helps to get eligible children enrolled.

&uot;CHIP covers from birth to age 19 and is administered through Blue Cross Blue Shield,&uot; Hill said. &uot;At Head Start, we’re mandated by the government to ensure that each child has a medical home.&uot;

When a parent enrolls a child in Head Start, one of the first questions always is whether the child has a regular physician and whether the family has health-insurance coverage, Hill said.

Many parents are unaware that the program providing insurance for children is available to them, Hill said. And some who know about it think they are not eligible because they have jobs and are not Medicaid recipients.

&uot;There is a threshold difference between Medicaid and CHIP,&uot; he said. &uot;And there is an awareness factor among people who don’t know their children are eligible.&uot;

CHIP is divided into two phases. Under Phase I, children ages 15 to 19 in families under a certain income threshold are eligible. An example of eligibility would be a family of three making less than $1,157 a month. Statistics show up to 15,000 children in the state may be eligible for Phase I coverage.

Under Phase II, with an estimated 85,000 Mississippi children believed to be eligible, children birth to 19 are eligible when families meet the income criteria. As an example, a family of three making less than $2,314 per month would be eligible to enroll their children for coverage.

Applications for CHIP are available at the Department of Human Services or the Division of Medicaid. Health Department workers also are able to assist families in filling out the forms.

Applications include questions about household members, income, child or adult daycare expenses and the usual personal information such as address, telephone number and Social Security number.

Jane’s children probably will be eligible for the program, and she said she will be interested in finding out about it. That still leaves her husband and her without coverage.

The one bright spot in the near future is that the daycare center where she works will give her full-time work in the summer. But that is without benefits.