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The Children's Health Insurance Program

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), formerly known as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), is a federally program funded initiated in 1997 to take a bite out of one daunting statistic: 8.1 million American children — or just over 1 in 10 — currently go without health insurance. CHIP provides health and dental coverage for children whose parents can't afford private health insurance. For little or no cost, CHIP pays for doctor visits, immunizations, hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Every state has its own CHIP program and is allowed to make its own rules regarding policies and eligibility, within certain parameters. Families that do not currently have health insurance are likely to be eligible, even if the parents are working.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s December 2009 figures, most states cover uninsured children under the age of 19 whose families earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (Federal poverty guidelines vary by size of family and state; as of 2009, it was $22,050 for a family of four in the lower 48 states and the District of Columbia.) A few states, such as North Dakota and Idaho, have a lower income cap, and many states have a higher cap of 300 percent or even 400 percent of the federal poverty level, in the case of New York.

CHIP gives states three options for devising a plan to cover uninsured children:

  1. Designing a new children's health insurance program
  2. Expanding current Medicaid programs
  3. A combination of both. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must approve each state's plan before it provides CHIP funds.

In addition, some states have expanded CHIP and Medicaid in order to cover pregnant woman and other adults who might otherwise go uninsured.

If you think your child might be eligible, you can receive more information about CHIP in your state by calling the nationwide toll-free hotline, (877) KIDS-NOW, or visiting the InsureKidsNow.gov Web site, which offers information about eligibility in your state and applying for coverage.

The long-term viability of CHIP is always at the mercy of Congress and the President. In 2007, Congress sought to greatly expand the funding of CHIP programs, but legislation was vetoed by President Bush. CHIP funding was then extended through March 2009. However, one of the first acts of the Obama administration was to reauthorize SCHIP, renaming it CHIP, in February 2009.

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