Pa. groups get $1.5M to find kids who need insurance

Two Pennsylvania nonprofits will share nearly $1.5 million in federal money to increase low-income children's access to health care in the state - an award that is especially timely.

For reasons officials don't fully understand, the number of eligible children who are covered by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has fallen slightly in Pennsylvania even as participation has grown nationally.

"We don't have a specific idea why there was a decline," said Alain Oliver, executive director of the Maternal and Health Care Consortium in Chester County, which will get $1 million. "But we have an idea how to remedy it."

In addition, the Pennsylvania Health Law Project was awarded $479,000 to seek out children who may have lost coverage due to family circumstances.

In New Jersey, Hopes Community Action Partnership Inc. of Hudson County will receive $357,000.

The grants are part of a $32 million nationwide effort called Connecting Kids to Coverage and designed to help enroll uninsured kids in Medicaid and CHIP. The programs provide routine checkups, immunizations, and dental care for children. Organizations in 38 states are among this year's grant recipients.

"Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the rate of uninsurance for children has declined to its lowest levels on record," said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. "Fewer than one in 20 children are now uninsured."

In Pennsylvania, about 1,540,000 children are enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. According to Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, an additional 140,000 are uninsured and eligible for state and federal coverage.

In the Keystone State, the number of eligible children participating in the two programs fell about 2.3 percent in 2015 from the previous year, according to data published Monday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Oliver said the Chester-based consortium would work closely with school districts to enroll immigrant children who are already participating in free and reduced-cost lunch programs. The money will be shared with a coalition of groups from Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties.

The consortium has a solid track record of finding families the health-care coverage they need, Oliver said. Previous efforts led to the enrollment of 12,000 children in the region into Medicaid and CHIP.

The Pennsylvania Health Law Project said it would use its grant money to focus on uninsured children in families who have become "disconnected from mainstream services" due to involvement in child welfare, juvenile courts, school discipline problems, or immigration issues.

samwood@phillynews.com

215-854-2796@samwoodiii