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WV seeks to put state workers' children on health care program

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - By July of next year, state employees might be able to enroll their children in a state health care program, according to an announcement Thursday from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Tomblin announced the state is seeking a waiver from the federal government that would allow state employees to enroll their children in the West Virginia Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.

"The good health of our children is of the utmost importance," Tomblin said in the news release. "Through this opportunity, we are seeking to protect and improve our children's quality of life and future by providing a more affordable insurance option for their families."

Right now, children of state employees are not eligible for CHIP coverage because of federal eligibility restrictions. The CHIP program provides coverage for low-income families or for families who have recently lost their health insurance, according to the program website.

The changes would allow state employees who receive coverage from the Public Employees Insurance Agency - PEIA - to enroll their dependents. Other eligibility criteria will remain the same.

Almost 25,000 children were enrolled in the program as of July, according to data available on the CHIP website.

The attempt to expand CHIP coverage is part of the state's larger process to prepare for health care changes mandated under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act, also called "Obamacare," will change requirements so the state could consider including people who receive some coverage through PEIA, according to the news release.

The state will ask the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Sept. 1 if it can expand the program. It's asking through an amended state plan, one of many the state anticipates filing as it prepares for changes under the new health care law.

Tomblin announced earlier this year the state will also loosen eligibility requirements for Medicaid benefits and create a health care exchange in conjunction with the federal government. Both are connected to the upcoming nationwide implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Enrollment for the new benefits offered under the act begins in October, with coverage under the plan available at the start of 2014.

The state expects it will receive a decision on whether it can extend CHIP benefits by Jan. 1, 2014. If approved, members of PEIA could potentially start to enroll in the CHIP program by July 1, 2014.

Several organizations, including left-leaning think tank the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, have advocated for the expansion of CHIP benefits to those currently on PEIA plans.

"If West Virginia were to adopt this change, up to 8,800 West Virginia children could be eligible, potentially saving the state and its public employees tens of millions of dollars while providing more comprehensive health coverage to thousands of children," wrote Brandon Merritt, a health policy analyst for the think tank, in a post last week.

The state also recently announced it would eliminate the 90-day waiting period before families can enroll children for CHIP benefits.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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