1 of 10
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Joy Pizzuto speaks during a celebration of CHIP's 15th anniversary at the Boys and Girls Club of Murray in Murray on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. Pizzuto's three daughters are covered by Medicaid. One of her daughters has epilepsy and the other has diabetes.

MURRAY — With hospital bills adding up, it was with swallowed pride that Joy Pizzuto applied for the Children's Health Insurance Program — CHIP — and changed her and her children's lives.

Pizzuto, a self-employed single mother of three, had never had health insurance, but being healthy, she had never really considered it a problem. But when her now 12-year-old daughter Avery started making routine trips to the emergency room with no obvious cause, she didn't know what to do until someone from the billing department at Intermountain Health Care told her about CHIP.

"I scooped her up, took her to the pediatrician and we went through a whole array of tests, and it was so nice because I felt like I could finally take care of our health care plan. I felt that I could take control," Pizzuto said.

"We were sitting in the room waiting for the doctor to come in, and I'll never forget it. She didn't even do the courtesy knock on the door. She opened the door ... and I knew something was terribly wrong. She said, 'Joy, your daughter's blood sugar is 842' and I knew right then what it was. She had Type 1 diabetes."

CHIP is a state and federal program that provides health insurance plans for the children of qualifying Utah families. To qualify, a child must be a legal resident under the age of 19 and not currently covered by health insurance.

Voices for Utah Children celebrated 15 years of CHIP at the Boys and Girls Club in Murray Thursday by sharing the benefits of the program and stories of those who have benefited from it. The group released a book, available on its website at utahchildren.org, that features nine families that CHIP and Medicaid has helped in some way. 

In Utah there are 200,000 children covered by CHIP and Medicaid, but there are still 65,000 children in the state that don't have health insurance, according to Voices for Utah Children.

"Everybody needs health insurance, either today or tomorrow," retired pediatrician Tom Metcalf said. "You've heard these dramatic stories that can happen in any family, even in an insured family it's an incredible cost."

Having health insurance through CHIP allows parents to regularly take children to a pediatrician, he said.

"There's no question that if they know they're insured or have Medicaid or have CHIP, they're much more likely to respond quickly and come in early on for a small co-pay instead of waiting until they have to pay the whole thing if they're uninsured." Metcalf said.

Karen Crompton, president and CEO of Voices for Utah Children, said CHIP is for all children, not only those with drastic illnesses.

"Kids need health coverage 365 days a year. It gives their parents peace of mind to know that they can take their child for a checkup or visit the doctor when they're sick," Crompton said. "Not everything that happens to CHIP or Medicaid kids is to the extreme. ... A lot of it is just regular, and even regular care isn't cheap if you don't have insurance."

Twitter: @FinleyJY