Welfare stigma hurting CHIP, health advocate tells group

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 6, 2000

The stigma of welfare is reducing the number of people taking advantage of a program to insure Mississippi children, a health advocate said Tuesday night.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, otherwise known as CHIP, is a federal-state program that provides insurance for children in families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford the cost of private insurance.

“I think a lot of people associate CHIP with welfare, so they don’t take advantage of it,” said Sean Courtney, program director of Mississippi Consumer Assistance Program.

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Medicaid pays medical bills for children in families where the income is up to 133 percent of the poverty level. The CHIP program is available to families that have an income of double the poverty level, up to about $40,000 for some families. Children are covered for virtually all health needs, including dental work and eyeglasses, until the age of 18.

Courtney was one of several speakers at a community forum Tuesday night at Good Shepherd Community Center.

“I think this gives us a chance to better the lives of all the people around us,” said the Rev. Tommy Miller, director of Good Shepherd.

The meeting was one of five being held around the state to give citizens a chance to meet directly with officials.

Walter J. Cooper, one of about 15 people present, said he will tell others what he learned.

“I wanted to see what this was all about and learn how I can pass the information on to other people,” Cooper said.

State Sen. Mike Chaney, who also spoke at the meeting, said health care is a key to a bright future for the state. “It is important that we sign our children up for these kind of programs,” he said.

Courtney said of 85,000 children in the state eligible for CHIP, about 16,000 are enrolled.

“These are really bad numbers that we need to fix,” he said.

Courtney said one improvement in the program has been the decrease in the waiting period for children who have had private insurance. “It used to be six months and now it is about 30 days, so that has helped us,” he said.

“People need to really get out there and spread the word about this really good program so we can get rid of the stigma,” he said.