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Children's Health Insurance Plan Issues New Income Guidelines

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services has announced new income guidelines for the state Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). The guidelines, effective Feb. 1, may expand the number of children who could qualify for the program.

CHIP provides free or low-cost health insurance for families with children who are not eligible for Medicaid and cannot afford other health insurance.

Each year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revises the Federal Poverty Level guidelines to account for inflation and other cost-of-living adjustments.

"We adjust our Montana income guidelines each year, based on the federal changes," said Jackie Forba, CHIP bureau chief. "We implement these changes as soon as possible since it means more children may be eligible for CHIP."

Under the new Montana guidelines, children from a family of four with an income of no more than $30,975 a year may be eligible for CHIP. That means a family can earn $975 more this year than last year.

Families who earn more than the guidelines should still consider applying, because additional adjustments are made based on the number of family members who work and whether they pay for child care.

"We strongly encourage families, even families who may have been over-income in the past, to apply for CHIP." Forba said. "We have no waiting list right now, so this is a great opportunity for families to get health coverage for their kids."

According to DPHHS, about 37,000 Montana children do not have health insurance. About half of them may be eligible for CHIP or Medicaid, the department estimates.

Forba clarified that the federal changes are not related to any of the bills currently being considered by the Montana Legislature.

"Legislators are considering a number of bills to provide CHIP coverage to more children, but at this time we don't know what changes they may approve," she said.

CHIP applications are available at participating doctors' offices and hospitals, as well as local public health departments, Offices of Public Assistance, community health centers, Head Start locations, Indian Health Services, and Tribal Health Clinics.

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