Tomblin proposes expanding kids health program

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More West Virginia children would qualify for free or low-cost health insurance under a proposal by Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin.

Tomblin, acting as governor, announced Wednesday that he asked the state's Children's Health Insurance Program board to consider expanding the program to cover working families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, up from the current 250 percent.

The board is expected to approve the expansion at its meeting Thursday.

Currently, a family of three earning $46,000 or less qualifies for the program. Tomblin's proposal would raise that to about $55,000.

"This request to expand plan coverage up to 300 percent of the [federal poverty level] would affect hard working West Virginia families in an overwhelmingly positive way," Tomblin said in a news release.

Tomblin wants to start the expansion in July.

During the first year of expansion, more than 300 additional West Virginia children would qualify for coverage, state officials say. That would increase to 720 in 2014.

In 2006, state lawmakers approved legislation that would allow for such an expansion.

The federal government pays for most of the program, which is meant to help families who earn too much for Medicaid but have no health coverage. 

The federal health care package will increase the amount the federal government pays, said Renate Pore, an analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. 

"It's a very good investment for the state," Pore said. "I know that $55,000 may sound like a lot in West Virginia, but when you're raising kids, it's not that much."

Services covered by West Virginia CHIP include checkups, immunizations, prescriptions, dentist visits and diabetic care.

Families can apply for CHIP by calling 1-877-982-2447, going to their local Department of Health and Human Resources office, or visiting

Reach Alison Knezevich at or 304-3480-1240.