In the 10 years that the state Children's Health Insurance Program has been operating, 134,735 kids who otherwise wouldn't have been able to get doctors' services have received regular checkups and been able to see doctors when they got sick or injured.
With that milestone and promises that the 70,000 children in Utah who still don't have insurance will have coverage well before another decade passes, CHIP administrators, child advocates and elected officials celebrated 10 years of the joint state/federal health plan for children.
CHIP at 10 is on its most solid footing yet: State lawmakers have granted healthy funding boosts the past two years and recently removed the enrollment cap so that anyone who qualifies doesn't have to wait for an open enrollment period.
They might have to wait six months to actually enroll, however. If OK'd by the federal government, the standard waiting period required for private insurance plans will be adopted for CHIP, displacing the usual 90 days. Across the country, 14 states have no waiting period for CHIP insurance to begin and 17 require six months. The wait in the remainder is between three and six months.
The request to allow the changes has not been met favorably by child advocates and health-care reform organizations who argue that doing so is fixing a government program that was described Wednesday as "an amazing success" nationwide.
A hold was put on that discussion Wednesday, giving way to balloons, cards, cake and well-wishes from children, their parents and elected officials.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who co-authored the enabling CHIP legislation in 1997, was on hand Wednesday. "I consider it to be one of my most important legislative accomplishments."
As Utah undertakes a massive health-care system reform effort, said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., CHIP is setting an example. "We have made great strides in improving access to health care for our vulnerable children. If your children do not have insurance, I encourage you to call today and see if you qualify for CHIP."
Current enrollment in CHIP is 34,588. The number of children and qualified families is at least double that. A special public education campaign aimed at ensuring children in families who fit the income guidelines are getting enrolled has been under way this summer statewide.
"CHIP is a program that works," said Speaker of the House Greg Curtis, R-Sandy and sponsor of HB326 this past session that mandated and funded open enrollment.
"Clearly, this occasion, perhaps more than any one thing, highlights the fact that our state can solve serious problems when we make a commitment," said Karen Crompton, executive director of Voices for Utah Children, the children's advocacy and research group.
"When parents enroll their kids in CHIP, they gain the peace of mind knowing that minor problems won't become more serious or complicated conditions," she said, noting that the program helps reduce expensive emergency room care. "Everybody wins when kids have coverage."
To qualify, children must meet certain household income and family size requirements. A family of four, for example, earning up to $42,400 per year can qualify if the children are younger than 19, are U.S. citizens or legal residents and are not currently covered by another insurance plan.For more information or to apply, visit www.health.utah.gov/chip/ or call 1-877-KIDS-NOW.