Friday, May 7, 2010

Keep CHIP Safe from Budget Cuts

Recent controversy surrounding reforming health care (to put it mildly), begs the question what opponents plan to do with the millions of children whose parents cannot afford the high cost of health insurance?

It is possible, as some propose, that we simply deny that as citizens, we have limited responsibility to the welfare of one another. The problem is that leads to sick children who underperform as students and consequently have limited futures as adults. Its also possible to say that people shouldn't have children for whom they cannot afford basics like health care - that horse, has already left the barn. And how many people can (or could) foresee issues like the loss of jobs, divorce, dramatic downturns in the economy or health issues more drastic than possibly imagined?

An article in yesterday's Dallas Morning News tells us how important it is...and how vulnerable it remains.

CHIP (or SCHIP, 'State Childrens Health Insurance Program'), has been a blessing to parents throughout the years.

"Under CHIP, state and federal governments heavily subsidize private insurance coverage for children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private health plans."

"Washington supplies about 72 cents of every $1 spent on CHIP. Texas, which has more uninsured children than any other state at about 1.2 million, pays the other 28 cents."

"The state started signing up children for the program in 2000. At its peak, nearly 530,000 participants were enrolled."

"But CHIP enrollment sank to fewer than 300,000 youths four years ago as a variety of factors conspired to drive families out. In the 2003 cuts, state leaders instituted new rules making parents submit paycheck stubs and reapply for benefits every six months, and there were tight limits on how nice a car the parents could drive."

"There also was a failed experiment that had families trying in vain to apply, or reapply, for help through privately operated call centers."

"Lawmakers restored dental and vision benefits in 2005 and relaxed most of the tougher eligibility rules two years later. This month, CHIP has nearly 512,000 enrollees, the first time rolls have exceeded 507,000 since 2003."

"But researchers say the program remains behind where it was before the cuts. Enrollment should have been about 565,000 as of last July because of the state's growth, said health demographer Karl Eschbach of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston."

""And we know that other factors have changed, including a pretty deep recession and declines in private market insurance," Eschbach said. "So there's an even larger need.""

When I was a pastor, I spent the better part of two decades without health care for me and my family. It was simply too expensive. At the same time, simply hoping and praying that no one got drastically ill was stressful! It's unreasonable to thoughtlessly suggest that parents today go through anything like that.

People who support a healthy future for our state and our country should support CHIP and support easing any restrictions that make it difficult for parents to get and maintain this vital support.

Profiled in the article, by the way, is Central Dallas Ministries' Jessica Davila, my colleague who works with me in public policy.

"CHIP coverage has meant peace of mind for Dallas residents Jessica Davila and Homero Salas. Their son, 5-year-old Alejandro, has asthma, and the program provides a nebulizer, inhalers and education for the parents, said Davila, an administrative worker at Central Dallas Ministries. Her husband is an office furniture installer."

"Another son, Damian, 4, has suffered from fluid build up in the brain. He had to have two surgeries in the past two years, both fully covered by the program, she said."

"Davila recalled a $500 visit to the emergency room at Children's Medical Center Dallas when Damian, then uninsured, suffered a high fever as a baby. His subsequent problems would've bankrupted the family had it not been for CHIP, she said."

""To this day, I'd still be paying off medical bills," Davila said. "I love CHIP. ... It benefits a lot of families out there.""

"Another couple, Joan and Greg Kimber of East Dallas, said they had each of their five daughters on CHIP for several years. They said it helped them survive a rough patch as the family's moving business struggled."

""We've had three kids break their wrists roller-skating. That was a great burden financially," Joan said. "It was a big deal to have regular health care.""

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