With so much news about what's wrong with the way health care works, the state's leading child advocacy group and the Legislature's speaker of the House took a few minutes Wednesday morning to point out that at least one program is good and getting better.
The only problem with the Children's Health Insurance Program is the 70,000 or so Utah children who qualify for the plan aren't being signed up for it, said Rep. Greg Curtis, R-Sandy.
Curtis, along with Voices for Utah Children, hopes to raise awareness of the joint state and federal insurance coverage for kids by publishing a 28-page brochure of personal stories of 10 families who say CHIP is providing necessary medical services they otherwise couldn't afford.
"As far as policy making goes, the Legislature has done all we can to make sure CHIP is on as solid a foundation that we can provide," Curtis said Wednesday after a news conference at the Capitol announcing the release of the new brochure. "Our hope is that folks who have the front-line interaction with our kids physicians, teachers, church leaders will help get the word out that this program provides access to basic care that a lot of us take for granted but is so vital to the well-being of our kids now and critical in becoming healthy adults in the future."
This past general session, lawmakers approved legislation proposed by Curtis and Senate President John Valentine that removed the enrollment cap on CHIP and requires the state Department of Health to allow families to sign up at any time and to make sure that eligible families get enrolled.
Removing the cap came on the heels of a $4 million appropriation approved by lawmakers in 2007.
Fellow lawmakers and legislative leadership 10 years ago didn't initially support having the qualifying income set at 200 percent of the federal poverty level and implemented a cap to lower financial risk, Curtis said.
"But on several occasions, I had families that qualified tell me they had to wait until enrollment was reopened," he said. "Closing enrollment solved a problem for the state but created one for people with sick kids who needed attention immediately. I felt that making care available is more important and that we as a Legislature and a community owe that to these kids."
Karen Crompton, executive director of Voices, said when children are uninsured, families have to delay or forgo immunizations, preventative screenings and treatments for chronic conditions such as diabetes or acute conditions like a case of the flu.
"Delaying or relinquishing care for our children simply doesn't add up to lower health-care costs," Crompton said, noting that the 10 families highlighted in the publication and others in the program are like many other families across the state. They have at least one parent working full-time or in one instance grandparents who worked a lifetime to provide for their children but were unable to find affordable health care.
"They are families who just by looking at them in the grocery store, in church or next door you would not be aware of their personal and financial struggles," she said. "Keeping children healthy or getting them to a doctor when they're sick shouldn't be contingent on the job a parent has or an employer's decision about the affordability of health insurance."
Angela Eckstein, a new mom, said she is able to be a stay-at-home mom because of CHIP. She said she and her husband are people who are well-educated, work hard and have been diligent taxpayers who hit a rough patch in their lives that CHIP has helped them bridge.
Eckstein said the family looked into purchasing a COBRA plan when her coverage with her employer ended and her husband, who had just completed his Ph.D., was told at his new job he would be required to wait a year for coverage.
"Paying $1,200 a month premium to keep the insurance going was impossible for us and probably just about everybody," she said, adding that if her child gets sick, a decision between paying bills and getting immediate medical attention is one they don't have to face.
"It's been wonderful to know that our government is helping us out in such a personal way," she said.To find out more about CHIP and qualifications for enrollment, call 877-KIDSNOW or online at www.utahchip.org.