Sometimes it's good to be in dark

College of Charleston physics and astronomy professor James Neff takes a look through the school's 16-inch telescope in its rooftop observatory, which will be open to the public the first Friday of every month.

COLUMBIA -- More than 160,000 children living in South Carolina qualify for government health insurance that is free for their parents, but the kids aren't signed up for the coverage.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on Friday challenged South Carolina and other states to find and enroll within five years an estimated 5 million children across the country who are eligible for the Children's Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP, or Medicaid.

CHIP is available to children whose parents make too much money for them to receive Medicaid. The state also offers South Carolina Healthy Connections Kids, which is insurance for children whose parents earn slightly more money.

Nationally, an average of 18 percent of eligible children aren't signed up for the insurance compared with 21 percent in South Carolina. Some states have enrollment as high as 95 percent. On the low end is Nevada, which has only 55 percent of qualifying kids enrolled.

In the Palmetto State, qualifying for CHIP and South Carolina Healthy Connections Kids are children in a family of four who come from households that earn between $2,444 and $3,675 a month. Those in families earning less than $2,444 a month generally qualify for Medicaid.

"As long as any child in America is without health insurance, we shouldn't be satisfied," Sebelius said during a webcast to discuss the Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge.

The webcast coincided with the release of a report by Urban Institute.

The Palmetto Project reports that more than 160,000 children in the state qualify for coverage but aren't enrolled. The nonprofit received a nearly $1 million grant from the federal government to lead an effort to do so. Most of the children are uninsured because their parents do not know they are eligible or that the programs are free with no monthly premiums, co-pays or deductibles for children, according to Shelli Quenga, project director Children's Health Initiative at Palmetto Project.

Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, said South Carolina is not doing enough to help families access care for their children. She noted that several other states, including Louisiana, have helped streamline the application and renewal processes for families while also conducting extensive outreach and educational campaigns.

Who qualifies?

South Carolina Healthy Connections Kids is the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP.

The coverage is open to children younger than 19 who live in households that earn up to 200 percent of poverty. For a mother and child, that's $2,425 a month. For a family of three, the monthly income can't exceed $3,051; family of four, $3,675; and family of five, $4,298.

Benefits for children in Healthy Connections Kids include doctor visits, health checkups, hospital visits, dental care, prescription drug coverage, immunizations, vision care and eyeglasses, lab work and X-rays, chiropractic services and behavioral health services.

For more information, log on to scchoices.com or call 877-552-4642.

The nonprofit Palmetto Project is working to connect more children to health insurance. For more information on their efforts to get help, visit ChildrensHealthSC.org or call 888-998-4646.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855 or ywenger@postandcourier.com.