ALTOONA, Pa. (WHTM) — When Alex Hamilton’s six-year-old son Connor was born, getting Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage for him was such a non-event that she barely remembers how long it took and what it look.
“A few weeks, maybe?” she recalled. “A few phone calls?”
But her daughter Brooke, who will soon turn a year old? Well, she can’t answer that definitively either — but for a different reason: Brooke still doesn’t have it.
And she’s not alone
“In some instances, we have heard from Pennsylvanians who experienced issues with their CHIP coverage, and we apologize for any inconvenience and confusion to families who may have experienced these issues,” Brandon Cwalina, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, said in a statement. “DHS is working diligently to resolve issues brought to our attention, and as cases are identified, enrollment is being started.”
Sure enough, Hamilton — who first spoke late last week with abc27 News — said a representative contacted her Monday, and she’s optimistic her daughter will soon have coverage.
“I will say, I appreciate the phone call back, and it really sounds like they’re trying to do everything they possibly can,” Hamilton said.
That follows a series of frustrations dating back to late 2022, a period that precedes a change in early 2023 that seemed to cause delays for a large — but unknown — number of Pennsylvania families. DHS integrated CHIP into Pennsylvania’s COMPASS system, which includes other social service programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The idea is to give users single-login access to all the programs, but CHIP applicants reported programs after the integration.
Hamilton said her family is relatively lucky: She and her husband have good jobs — jobs with high enough incomes that they have to pay for CHIP, whereas some families qualify for free coverage — and their pediatrician treated Brooke even though she didn’t have coverage yet, trusting the payments would come eventually.
“They’re being very patient with me, and honestly, they’ve been wonderful,” Hamilton said. “But I mean, they are waiting to get paid almost a year now.”
And as for children in families less fortunate than the Hamiltons?
“These kids are going without health care coverage,” Hamilton said.
Originally from Carlisle, Hamilton said her parents — who still live locally — encouraged her to contact abc27 News about her experience.
“The department is pleased Ms. Hamilton’s case is resolved,” Cwalina of DHS said. “Our staff is here to help Pennsylvanians remain covered in any way we can.”
Hamilton said part of her initial problem involved a loop in which she was told she had to first apply for Medicaid (although the Hamiltons don’t qualify for it) before applying for CHIP, but then the CHIP application wouldn’t work, and she had to start over again with Medicaid.
Cwalina said generally, Pennsylavnians should apply for any program they think they might qualify for, even if they aren’t certain they qualify.
“Pennsylvanians do not need to know their own eligibility in order to apply for Medicaid, CHIP or any of the programs we administer,” he said. “DHS caseworkers will take care of determining eligibility and can connect individuals to other programs that they may be eligible for.”
He said applicants should make sure to respond to all requests for information from DHS staff. Anyone with CHIP eligibility questions can call 1-877-395-8930 throughout Pennsylavnia or 215-560-7226 in Philadelphia.