All Eyes on States – Time to Say Goodbye to CHIP Waiting Periods

As states are rushing to get their enrollment and eligibility systems in top form going into 2014, HHS just handed them one more critical decision to make: getting rid of outdated CHIP waiting periods.

Say Ahhh! readers know that eliminating CHIP waiting periods— or the period of time that a child must remain uninsured before being able to enroll in CHIP— has been a high priority item for CCF and many of our partners, which we highlighted in our comments to the proposed rule.  We were disappointed to see that in its final rule, released last week, CMS allows states to keep waiting periods in place — up to a maximum of 90 days.

Why is this a priority issue for CCF? We know that waiting periods create barriers between kids and health care.  This extra layer of red tape – in place in 37 states – puts children’s health and families’ economic security at risk, and is costly for states to administer.

So now we look to 37 states to remove these unnecessary barriers that could prevent or delay children from getting the care they need.  As Tricia Brooks pointed out last week, this year several states, including Colorado, New Hampshire, and Vermont, have already done the right thing by saying goodbye to waiting periods.  Maryland and Washington are taking steps to do the same.  Other states should take their lead and throw out unnecessary policies that, in effect, push some children to the back of the line for health care coverage.  No child should be locked out of the affordable health care they need to grow into healthy, productive adults.

Half of the states (19) with waiting periods require children to remain uninsured for more than three months.  As these states move to shorten the wait to 90 days to comply with the new rule, why not just take the next logical step of getting rid of waiting periods altogether? It would create less hassle for families and states alike and ensure that no child would experience a gap in their health care.

What’s at stake here? A delay in care of three months—particularly for very young children, children with serious health care conditions, and vulnerable teens—can affect their healthy growth and development. No child should be at any risk of interrupted health care in a reformed health system. The Affordable Care Act envisions a world where everyone is expected to have access to affordable health care. Waiting periods have no logical place in this post-ACA world.

So all eyes are on states: Will leaders do what is necessary to ensure no child has to wait for the health care they need?

Elisabeth Wright Burak is a Senior Fellow at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.