West Virginia has the nation's fourth-lowest rate of low-income children without health insurance, largely because of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. and his support of the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of the Congressional reauthorization of CHIP in 2009, when Rockefeller was a leader in the fight to maintain the program.
CHIP provides health insurance to 40,000 children in West Virginia and 8 million children nationally. Back in 1997, Congress created the landmark program, passing legislation written by Rockefeller.
"Health care is a right, not a privilege, and is essential for giving kids a strong start and fair shot in life," Rockefeller said. "That's why championing CHIP is one of my proudest fights in nearly 50 years of public service."
Today, West Virginia has the nation's fourth-lowest rate of low- income children without health insurance, largely because of CHIP.
Together, CHIP and Medicaid provide access to health care for more than 200,000 children in West Virginia and 42 million children in the country.
"CHIP was designed to fill a devastating gap in coverage for children who weren't poor enough to be eligible for Medicaid but still were unable to afford or have access to any health insurance," Rockefeller said.
"Imagine how hard it must be for a mother or father to decide to wait just one more day in the hopes that a sick child's frightening symptoms will disappear, only to see them worsen in the middle of the night.
"Without quality coverage, they're stuck with no way out. Today, because of CHIP, millions of families no longer have to face that harsh reality."
The CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009 financed new initiatives to improve children's health and made enrollment procedures easier. The West Virginia Legislature helped CHIP expand dental, mental health and eye-care coverage for children.
Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginia for Affordable Health Care, said, "This is an example of how Sen. Rockefeller has fought for the lives of West Virginia families.
"His efforts included: protecting health benefits for coal miners' widows in 1992, establishing and defending the CHIP program and moving us toward health care for every West Virginian with the Affordable Health Care Act. All three are gigantic accomplishments."
Renate Pore, a health policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said CHIP "has been a great program in West Virginia. It is a government program that everybody loves.
"A few years ago, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources did a survey about what people thought about CHIP. They said it was the most popular government program West Virginia has ever had.
"We appreciate Jay Rockefeller's role and the state has managed CHIP really well. The program continues to improve the health of our kids," Pore said.
"Dr. William Neal, a pediatrician at West Virginia University, credits the CHIP program for better results in cholesterol [tests] on students today."
Since eligibility for CHIP benefits goes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, it reaches well into the middle class. In 2012, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four was $23,050 in annual income; 300 percent of that guideline was $69,150.
"Sen. Rockefeller was the key to making the program happen and in defending it when the Bush Administration wanted to kill it."
Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said, "Because of CHIP, the vast majority of West Virginia children from working families that cannot afford insurance now have insurance coverage."
"Unfortunately a lot of parents of those children cannot afford health-care coverage for themselves. If the parents get sick, the children can still risk losing their homes.
"That is why it is so important that we expand the state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Health Care Act."
Zuckett said Medicaid expansion could cover more than 100,000 working adults who need coverage.
"More federal money will come into our state's health- care system. We will have less uncompensated care and more jobs in our state's health-care system.
"Right now, West Virginia has some of the most stringent requirements to get access to Medicaid of almost any state in the country.
"The CHIP program is a good model for the expansion of Medicaid," Zuckett said.
Rockefeller said his "passion for expanding health coverage for children was born in those early days in Emmons [as a VISTA volunteer], where my moral compass was set. I still well up with deep emotion when I think of all CHIP has accomplished.
"While we celebrate this anniversary and all of the improvements to health and dental care for our children, it's a good time to remember that our work is far from over. I will never stop fighting to see children across West Virginia get the care they rightfully deserve."
Reach Paul J. Nyden