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How Rallying a Community — and The Steelers and Mr. Rogers — Helped Bring Care to 7 Million Kids


Published Feb 16, 2023 • by Alexis Miller

Healthy kids make healthy adults. When children have strong health insurance coverage, it sets them on a course for lifelong wellness and success. It frees them to be their best, and allows them to grow and develop physically, socially, and emotionally. For families, there’s relief in knowing that their children are protected.

It’s why the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is one of the most vital programs in America. CHIP provides health insurance to uninsured children whose low-income, often working families do not qualify for Medicaid. It is a cornerstone of American health care today, providing an affordable coverage option for more than seven million kids in the U.S. and peace of mind for families.

While CHIP is all grown up — it’s a millennial! — it’s worth revisiting how our community inspired this now-thriving program.

In the wake of economic hardship, stakeholders from across Pennsylvania rallied to make sure our kids’ health needs were met — and in the process, created a national model for children’s health care and cross-sector partnerships.

The collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s devastated Pittsburgh’s economy. Many workers lost health insurance coverage not just for themselves, but also for their spouses and children. Families were under immense pressure and faced heart-wrenching decisions. Food, rent, and health care — some could only pick two. That’s not a choice that any family should have to make.

What we at Highmark heard above all else is, “please do something for our kids.”

Highmark partnered with more than 15,000 individuals, churches, unions, schools, and other community organizations to raise funds and identify uninsured children. We brought together those groups and health care providers to offer services and design a first-of-its-kind offering: The Caring Program for Children.

No child in the program was excluded due to a pre-existing condition. Communities stepped up by raising funds for uninsured children in their own neighborhoods. And we stepped up by matching those funds dollar for dollar, and by covering the administrative costs of the program. It was the first health insurance program in the nation to cover at-risk kids.

We also got creative. Fred Rogers, of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame, graciously supported the effort. He lent credibility to our effort to help families in distress. This program really was about helping your neighbors. The Pittsburgh Steelers, a beacon of hope for the region through difficult times, partnered with us to promote the programs and raise funds.

Other Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans from across the country took note of our region’s success. They understood that their local communities had some of the same unmet health needs and that The Caring Program offered a proven model. The Caring Program evolved into a coalition of more than 20 other Blues plans serving kids across the country.

But we knew that we could make an even greater impact on the lives of children and families in Pennsylvania. So, we partnered with legislators and community organizations to create a sustainable model for a statewide children’s health insurance program. We worked together to design benefits and create public-private partnerships. We took the learnings and successful model of The Caring Program and scaled it. And in the mid-nineties, Highmark enrolled the first child into CHIP in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania led the way in caring for at-risk children, and the rest of the nation followed.

We are proud to have played a leading role in The Caring Program, and in building CHIP into what it is today. CHIP has been strengthened over the years, offering additional supports to children with complex health conditions, and most kids are eligible. CHIP is a source of pride for Highmark — which insures more than 16,000 kids across 62 counties in Pennsylvania through our Highmark Healthy Kids program — and for all Pennsylvanians. It’s an example of putting kids and families first.

As Pennsylvania’s CHIP program blows out the candles, its creation and staying power show that when we partner with the communities that we proudly serve, anything is possible.