Expanded CHIP services aim to help low-income moms, babies

WVU PhotoDr. Lisa Costello, assistant professor for the WVU School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, says the expanded services of West Virginia Children’s Health Insurance Program can help the state’s low-income mothers and their babies.

The West Virginia Children’s Health Insurance Program recently added coverage for maternity services — a move that can greatly improve the health of the state’s low-income mothers and their babies, according to a West Virginia University pediatrician.

“With pregnancy, our body undergoes various physiologic changes,” said Dr. Lisa Costello, an assistant professor in the West Virginia University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. “It’s very important to have routine prenatal and maternal care so those changes can be monitored.”

Conditions may arise, such as gestational hypertension or diabetes, which are important to identify as soon as possible during pregnancy.

“If there’s a way we can intervene to provide better outcomes, we want to be there,” Costello said.

Costello, who was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice as a citizen member of the state CHIP board, said the breadth of the coverage is especially important. Coverage under the expansion includes medical, pharmacy, dental, vision, behavioral health and prenatal care.

“Comprehensive services are important because our health includes our mental health, our oral health, physical and spiritual health,” Costello said. “It’s important to cover the whole patient for overall health.”

Smoking cessation can also be addressed under the expanded CHIP coverage. Smoking is especially prevalent in the Mountain State — more than one in four moms in West Virginia smoke, compared to one in 10 nationally.

“If we can get a mother in to be evaluated, and we can counsel them on the importance of tobacco cessation, it can have long-term health benefits for the mother and baby,” Costello said. “With tobacco use, we worry about the lung health of the mother, and ensuring there’s good oxygen delivery to the baby. Nicotine use can cause constriction, which can impact the baby’s growth.”

Mothers with substance use disorder can also receive treatment under the expanded services.

“Sometimes people will not seek care because of stigma or fear something may happen to their baby,” Costello said. “We have to do a better job of making sure we’re encouraging individuals to seek care, to get treatment for themselves and to better care for their baby.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, current WV CHIP members are eligible for maternity services through age 18. The expanded coverage allows pregnant women over age 19, with no other health insurance coverage and an income between 185 and 300 percent of the federal poverty line, to receive maternity services and other health coverage from CHIP as well.

The mother is eligible for continued services for 60 days after delivery, and the newborn is eligible for services up to one year.

During the 2019 regular session, an overwhelming majority of members of the West Virginia Legislature supported the bill to expand CHIP coverage for pregnant women. Justice signed the bill into law March 25.

“We know that a barrier to care is not having health insurance. If someone does have insurance, they’re more likely to seek care,” Costello said. “If we can prevent long-term consequences, we will be saving money and having mothers and babies who are living healthier, more productive lives.

“We have to work to build connections, community and face challenges together. We can overcome our state’s challenges.”

Income eligibility guidelines and more information can be found at chip.wv.gov. Enrollment applications can be submitted online. Paper applications can be submitted at DHHR county offices and are available for download.

For assistance, call the WVCHIP Help Line at 1-877-982-2447 or visit a DHHR county office.

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