CHIP is good for Utah children, taxpayers

21 April 2015 Written by  

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been reauthorized, but only for the next two years.  Advocates for children cannot become complacent! This op-ed by Voices for Utah Children president and CEO Lincoln Nehring and Meg Booth, director of policy for the Children’s Dental Health Project was originally published in the Deseret News on February 11, 2015 and explains why we need to keep fighting for CHIP:

doctor checks girls eyes smallerWhen it comes to health insurance, there is good news and bad news for Utah children. On the one hand, we’re pleased that the percentage of uninsured children continues to fall, dropping from 11.1 percent in 2011 to 9.5 percent today. On the other hand, unless Congress acts soon, thousands of Utah children could lose the coverage they have through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

Federal funding for CHIP expires at the end of September, and long before then, state health officials will need to finalize their CHIP budgets. Unless Utah’s Congressional delegation, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Congress vote soon to extend funding, Utah and other states might be compelled to propose eligibility caps, waiting lists or even termination of their CHIP programs.

Fortunately, there is time to avert this outcome if Utahns contact their members of Congress and voice support for CHIP.

About 15,000 Utah children are enrolled in CHIP. Typically, these families have working parents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance. For them, CHIP is a lifeline that helps ensure their children receive age-appropriate medical and dental services to keep them healthy.

CHIP families pay a small premium to participate, but coverage is affordable because no family’s premium and out-of-pocket costs can exceed 5 percent of its household income. CHIP is also a good deal for Utah taxpayers. The federal government provides matching funds for Utah’s CHIP program at a higher rate than it provides to the average state.

We know that CHIP makes a real difference in connecting kids with the medical and dental services they need to stay healthy. Last year, an independent evaluation found that children enrolled in CHIP “had significantly better access to primary care.”

As Herbert recently stated, “The bottom line is that CHIP has decreased the number of uninsured children in our state and that there remains a need for CHIP until low-income working families have a viable alternative to providing care for their children.” We agree. Parents who buy coverage from the marketplace or most small employer plans will end up paying more for less, especially when it comes to dental coverage.

Why? Qualified health plans in Utah are not required to cover the full range of pediatric dental services that CHIP covers. Because of Utah’s decision to use a state employees benefit plan as a benchmark, the marketplace plans are only required to cover routine dental visits, cleanings, X-rays, fluoride treatments and dental sealants. Basic restorative care like getting a cavity filled doesn’t have to be covered.

In addition, the Utah marketplace doesn’t offer families much choice as to how they purchase their children’s dental coverage. In fact, more than 98 percent of the health plans offered this year do not include pediatric dental benefits. This means that Utah families who lost CHIP coverage would have to pay an additional premium and separate out-of-pocket costs to gain access to more limited dental services.

At a time of partisan divisions in Washington, CHIP is a rarity — a program that unites Americans, regardless of their party affiliation. In fact, a national survey conducted last year revealed that 66 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of Independents and 80 percent of Democrats support an extension of federal CHIP funding.

By extending CHIP’s funding until 2019, Congress can demonstrate that it hasn’t lost touch with the ultimate priority of Utah families: raising happy, healthy children.


Sara Face Shot BetterSara Gunderson, Office Manager and Executive Assistant, joined the organization in 2007. She has extensive administrative experience, including more than eight years in development at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. Sara received her BS in Psychology at the University of Utah with a coursework emphasis in infant and child development.