Marlene Westlund's five sons and daughters are the first Utah children to be accepted for insurance coverage under the new Children's Health Insurance Program.
Wednesday, they met Gov. Mike Leavitt, smiled for pictures and Casey, 6, had his first well-child checkup - a thrill for their mom who has worried over every sniffle knowing the family couldn't afford an expensive trip to the doctor.Eventually, officials hope to have 30,000 children enrolled in CHIP, children from families like the Westlunds who work but can't afford private health insurance.
Roger Westlund milks cows at a dairy. Marlene Westlund is an assistant in a State Farm Insurance office. The Redmond, Sevier County, family had good medical coverage when Roger worked for an area coal mine. But jobs since haven't offered benefits.
The CHIP program was approved by the 1998 Legislature. Paid for by state and federal funds and $6 million from a state tax on hospital beds, the program makes medical care attainable for low-income families. Families who make between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible. Those who make too little to qualify for CHIP will be placed on Medicaid, said Chad Westover, CHIP program manager for the Utah Department of Health, which will oversee the program. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $16,450.
All 50 states had the option to design their own programs. Utah's program will cover twice as many children than if the state had merely expanded Medicaid. The program was designed to mimic the coverage offered to the children of state employees. Costs paid by the family depend on income. The West-lund family will pay a $5 co-pay for a visit to the doctor and $2 for prescriptions.
At a press conference Wednesday at Primary Children's Medical Center, Leavitt said CHIP children will have insurance comparable to that of his own children.
"This is a big day for children in the state of Utah," Leavitt said.
Five years ago, 88 percent of Utah children had health insurance. With the new CHIP program, 97 percent will have coverage. The remaining 3 percent can't be found, Leavitt said.
Rachel Fischer, an advocate from Utah Children, said CHIP is a tremendous step up for the state.
Families from rural areas, like the Westlunds, will be able to visit a doctor within a 30-mile drive from their home and will be enrolled in the Public Employees Health Plan Preferred Care network. Families from counties along the Wasatch Front can enroll in Public Employees Health Plan, United Health Care and American Family Care of Utah.
For more information about enrolling in the CHIP program, call 1-888-222-2542.