More than 600 children impacted by the imperiled CHIP health care program
Everyone from government officials to late night hosts are sounding the alarm as the Child Health Insurance Program runs out of money, putting almost nine million children nationwide at risk of losing health coverage. In Summit County, more than 600 children rely on the program for low-cost coverage. Local leaders are calling for Congress to come together and refund a program that had until recently seen bipartisan support.
CHIP is a health insurance program for low-income children and pregnant women who do not financially qualify for Medicaid. For 20 years, it has covered doctor and hospital visits, emergency room visits, immunizations, dental care and other critical needs.
However, with a Republican majority seeking ways to shrink the government while also cutting taxes, CHIP has become a bargaining chip in budget negotiations for 2018. Funding ran out for the program in September and there is no timeline for renewal. Several states are set to lose funding in the next few months, including Colorado, and there is no contingency plan for the estimated 90,000 Colorado families who rely on the program for basic health care.
The Summit County Board of Commissioners sent an open letter to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., earlier this month strongly urging the senator and his colleagues to renew funding for CHIP, citing the special challenges in Summit County, which has among the highest health insurance premiums in the nation while relying on an unpredictable seasonal economy.
“A Summit County family of four who now pays about $75 per year to insure its children through CHIP would face health insurance premiums of about $300 per month, even after a tax credit,” the letter declares.
“Without CHIP, this difficult challenge would only be exacerbated, placing added financial pressure on our Federally Qualified Health Center and the emergency department of our local hospital. And as families reallocate funds to cover drastically higher health care costs, the finite resources of our human services organizations would be placed under increasing pressure.”
Commissioner Dan Gibbs has been a vocal advocate for CHIP, and notes that with the looming cut to the Medicaid expansion under former president Obama, the number of Summit kids risking losing coverage increases to 900, a worrying amount for a county of only 30,000.
“We have some of the highest health insurance premiums in the country, and combine that with the lack of coverage for the folks, and we’re facing a catastrophic situation,” Gibbs says.
Gibbs is also frustrated with how the situation has come to this point in the first place, saying politics is risking good health and maybe even lives.
“They (Congress) are using kids as a political tool for something that has never been a political issue,” he said.
Summit School District spokeswoman Julie McCluskie is also concerned about the pending loss of CHIP, fearing disastrous consequences for kids in the school system as their health is directly related to their performance and achievement in class.
“The district believes that social and medical health are directly related to their performance in school. Better health makes for better students,” she said.
Erin Major, the school-based health director at the Summit Community Care Clinic, agrees with this sentiment. “Kids need to be healthy,” she said. “We can’t expect them to learn if they’re sick.”
Major is also very concerned about how this will affect Summit County residents. She points out how fewer insured people means more emergency room visits from those who avoid seeing the doctor because they can’t afford it. That means much poorer outcomes and higher costs to taxpayers than if these hundreds of children had health coverage.
As the uncertainty continues, Colorado and other states are scrambling to find solutions. The BOCC has joined other local and state governing bodies in urging federal legislators to pass renewal for CHIP. At a work session on Tuesday, the board also encouraged Summit residents to write senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennett, D-Colo., demanding they take action.
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