Fueled by new legislation designed to keep enrollment open year-round, the Children's Health Insurance Program Van Tour is about to get under way.

The tour, designed to sign up families who qualify but haven't enrolled, is underwritten as part of HB326, a CHIP appropriations bill designed to stave off funding dips that have kept the CHIP enrollment closed more often than it has been open since 2002.

The joint state and federal insurance plan for children in families with working parents but who don't have medical insurance has covered 127,000 children since 1998.

The CHIP van first hit the road in August 2007, crisscrossing the state and visiting all 29 counties. CHIP workers attended 100 events and met with more than 3,000 people, ultimately accepting more than 330 applications while sending many more home with interested families. Current enrollment stands at nearly 32,000 kids, and the program will continue to accept as many eligible children as apply.

The tour this year is also part of a multi-year effort by lawmakers to bring state programs already in place to outlying areas where thousands of children qualify but who aren't signing up. Having every child and every Utahn covered by insurance is the ultimate goal of a multi-faceted, multi-year health-care system reform plan approved during the just-concluded general session of the Legislature.

By making sure children and Utah families are covered, parents can have peace of mind that medical costs for their children are taken care of "so that they can direct their focus to other basic needs for their families," said David Sundwall, executive director of the state Department of Health.

Lack of insurance is becoming an increasing problem for many working parents in Utah, where the rate of businesses dropping medical benefits to workers leads the nation. CHIP administrators say many parents who had coverage but whose incomes are too high for Medicaid insurance but too low to afford private medical insurance are signing up.

To receive CHIP benefits, children must meet age and income requirements. For example, a family of four earning up to $42,400 a year may qualify. Children must be younger than 19, U.S. citizens or legal residents, and not currently covered by other insurance. Families can apply online, have an application mailed to them or apply in person at the CHIP van or a local eligibility office.

Once enrolled, families may be required to pay premiums of up to $60 every three months. Premiums and co-pays for services make it possible for CHIP to insure even more children.

To learn more about the CHIP Van Tour, call 1-877-KIDS-NOW, or visit www.health.utah.gov/chip for a detailed list of event locations, dates and times.

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com