The story "Officials celebrate 10 years of CHIP" (Aug. 21) acknowledged what Utah pediatricians already know: The Children's Health Insurance Program has been very successful in covering low-income children who otherwise would not have been insured. Since 1998 CHIP has enabled the provision of 83,656 well-child exams and 226,922 immunizations, the filling of 192,434 cavities and the mending of 3,843 broken arms.
Thanks to legislation passed by lawmakers earlier this year, CHIP is now continuously open for enrollment, allowing families to apply at any time during the year. Unfortunately, the state is seeking a change that could cause children of low-income families to go without insurance for six months (double the current waiting period) before becoming eligible for CHIP. This change would compromise children's access to needed health care.
Delaying access to care has far-reaching consequences for young children. By the age of 2, children should have had nine primary-care visits, involving key health, growth and developmental assessments and preventive services, including up to 25 immunizations to protect against 13 dangerous infectious diseases. They may also be screened for lead poisoning, iron deficiency anemia, developmental delay, autism and other conditions. And these are only the predictable medical procedures that we know they will need; unpredictable illnesses or injuries can occur at any time. Should uninsured children get sick or injured, their families could be faced with devastating medical expenses.
When children have continuous health-insurance coverage, they can get preventive care to keep them healthy and screenings to detect problems with motor, language or social-interaction skills. Early identification allows for early treatment, which gives kids a better chance to grow up healthy, strong and capable. Reliable and consistent coverage for kids also makes sense from an economic standpoint. When care is delayed, conditions worsen and are more likely to require intensive, costly treatment.
Our state has proven that unlike many health problems facing children, the one that keeps at least 70,000 Utah children from seeing a doctor because they don't have insurance is curable. We should get kids who need coverage into CHIP and Medicaid and cut the red tape that prevents or delays eligible kids from getting the care they need.
Doubling the waiting period for CHIP represents a step backward in our efforts to enroll eligible kids. Rather than building roadblocks to coverage, we should be removing obstacles to enrollment by simplifying and easing the sign-up process and investing in outreach.Utah has made real and steady progress toward covering all of the state's uninsured children. Every Utahn who cares about children's health and the state's economy should join pediatricians in opposing changes that would move our state backward.
Dr. Chuck Norlin is the past president of the Intermountain Pediatric Society and is the chief of the division of General Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center.