Merlene Davis: KCHIP is lifeline for uninsured children

We have neighbors and family members who work to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, but buying health insurance for their children is out of the question.

The best gift you can give them is information about the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program, or KCHIP. They will thank you for it.

The Economic Policy Institute found that family health insurance premiums grew 131 percent from 1999 to 2009, well ahead of inflation and hourly earnings.

That is insane.

That means there are parents throughout this state who are holding their breath when their children get a fever, stub a toe or suffer with a toothache.

And for no reason.

KCHIP is free or low-cost health insurance for children whose family income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but doesn't stretch far enough to cover monthly premiums. They cannot have any other health insurance.

Still, Kentucky has 67,000 children who qualify for KCHIP but who are not enrolled, said Cindy Arflack, KCHIP outreach coordinator.

We need to get the word out.

To qualify, a family of four must earn less than $3,675 a month. Coverage lasts for 12 months before families must re-apply.

Arflack said if a family qualifies and then experiences a job loss, they are automatically enrolled in Medicaid without a face-to-face visit. "They don't have to fill out another application," she said. "We do it behind the scenes."

KCHIP coverage includes doctor visits, prescriptions, dental care, hospitalization, mental health services and vision exams.

When you tell your neighbors or family members about KCHIP, I'll bet you will visibly see burdens falling off their backs.

The best resources for getting the word out, Arflack said, are the Family Resource and Youth Service Centers in our schools.

"I cannot sing enough praises about them," she said. "They are absolutely for the kids. If they know a family who qualifies, they get those kids approved."

But there are still populations that are being missed, Arflack said. One group is the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Children in the program must be U.S. citizens or legal residents for five years. But one requirement of the program is income documentation, which some illegal immigrants cannot get from their employers. In those cases, other income documentation or proof of employment can be accepted.

"It is in everybody's interests for all children to be insured," Arflack said. "It makes good sense."

In addition to family resource centers, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department is also pushing to sign up families and deliver any other information about health issues a community may require.

Mark Johnson, health and equity team leader at the health department, said the department has been working with school health nurses to get the word out and have started training sessions about KCHIP for the members of the eight churches in the areas of Green Acres and Winburn neighborhoods, off Russell Cave Road, and three schools in the vicinity.

The focus is a part of the Pathway to Wellness Neighborhood Health Project, which asked residents what they need in the area of public health and safety, Johnson said.

"It's all about the children and getting them good coverage," Arflack said. "With good health, children do better in school.

"And if I can relieve these families of one less worry, then I've done my job," she said.

We who are neighbors and family members need to be able to say the same.

For more information or to apply for KCHIP, visit or call 1-877-524-4718.