On August 5, children’s advocates in Kentucky and across the country will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which was signed into law on August 5, 1997. SCHIP was designed to provide health insurance to children who fell in the gap between public and private coverage. Before this safety net program was created, an estimated 11 million children in the United States and 162,000 in Kentucky were without health insurance.

Kentucky’s CHIP program (KCHIP) has been instrumental in reducing the uninsured rate among children 18 years of age and younger from 15 percent in 1996 to 8 percent in 2009. Today, KCHIP provides health coverage to more than 65,000 children across the Commonwealth.

“We know the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program has been a safety net for children in Kentucky since its inception,” said Terry Brooks, executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Thousands of kids over the past 15 years have had access to free and low-cost immunizations, well-child visits, and medications because of this program.”

While this federal legislation was monumental, the ultimate success of Kentucky’s program depended on how it was implemented at the state level. Governor Beshear led the charge in making it easier for children to be enrolled in coverage. He did that by removing the face-to-face interview required to sign children up for the program and expanding outreach efforts to reach eligible but uninsured children.

While great progress has been made, there is more to be done. There are still barriers to KCHIP such as the requirement that children go without health insurance for 6-months before they can enroll in the program, and the requirement for legally-residing immigrant children to wait 5-years before enrolling in the program. Nationally, 30 states have either reduced or removed waiting periods for SCHIP and 24 states have opted to allow legally-residing immigrant children to enroll in SCHIP without having to wait 5 years. Elimination of these waiting periods for KCHIP could be done through a state plan amendment without the need for legislation.

“The benefit of KCHIP to Kentucky and its people is beyond measure. Children with health insurance coverage start off life on the right foot: they are healthier, miss fewer days of school and their parents miss less work. Let’s take steps to make the next 15 years of the KCHIP program the best yet,” added Brooks.