CHAMPAIGN — When Judith Hopping had an opportunity to withdraw from a state health insurance program created decades ago to cover the uninsurable and sign up for Obamacare, she took it.
What she didn't bank on was starting off the new year double-paying for health coverage.
Hopping, 53, of Champaign, was covered for two years under the state's Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan, or CHIP, a program launched in 1989 to cover people who have been denied coverage by major medical carriers.
Hopping said she canceled her CHIP coverage at the end of December as soon as she and her family were able to successfully enroll in an Affordable Care Act health plan.
But in addition to the new $800 monthly family premium they paid, they are also out — at least temporarily — two extra monthly premium payments for CHIP. The state also deducted the $750 payment for Hopping's CHIP plan for January from her bank account, and withdrew another $750 payment in February, she said.
Hopping said she waited until late December to cancel her CHIP coverage to make sure she would have coverage in January, because Affordable Care Act enrollment took months to get completed. Part of the enrollment delay resulted from her and her family being mistakenly enrolled in the state Medicaid program, and then having to undo that enrollment to enroll in the commercial health plan they wanted.
"The bad news kept coming in dribbles," she said.
Hopping said she expected to get a refund from CHIP in January, after she canceled, or at least that was what she was told on the phone. She was horrified when the state also withdrew a payment for February.
She called again, and was told she should have called her bank to put a stop-payment order in, but nobody told her that before, she said.
When she called back just recently, she was told it would likely take until the end of February or early March to receive her refund for the two months, Hopping said.
In all, 13,818 CHIP participants have requested a termination of their coverage, and 13,000 of those applications have already been processed, according to state Department of Insurance spokeswoman Kimberly Parker.
Once a withdrawal has been made from someone's bank account after a cancellation, Parker said, the CHIP program must wait at least 30 days to make the refund.
"I'm told that full refunds will be sent to participants, and that's full refunds, minus any claims," she said.
Parker said she is unaware that anyone has been asked to transition from the CHIP plan. However, she said, since the Affordable Care Act now forbids insurers to deny coverage or charge anyone more if they have a pre-existing condition, CHIP participants have an opportunity to shop for more affordable health plans.
Despite the CHIP payment and Affordable Care Act enrollment snags she encountered in recent months, Hopper says her entire family of four now has health coverage for just a little more than what they had been paying for just her coverage alone.
And even at the cost of the CHIP plan, she adds, "I'm pretty grateful to the state of Illinois that they did provide this safety net for people who couldn't get coverage all these years."