The Legislature should increase CHIP funding

By By Beth Ranschau

By Beth Ranschau

My brother got a cavity. This is no extraordinary event for a 9-year-old boy who enjoys sucking on sugar daily, yet this cavity put him in excruciating pain–to the point of tears. He had to go to the dentist.

But for my mom, who had suddenly become the single mother of four, health care was an expensive option that she could no longer afford. Without health care, my brother wouldn’t be able to go to the dentist without a large price tag. Luckily, my mom had enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

My brother was just one of 10,000 children who gained access to health care through the CHIP–a federally-funded state insurance program for families who may not qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford private health insurance.

While this program has helped out thousands of children in Utah, the work isn’t done. An estimated 24,600 children in the state who are still without health insurance might have qualified for CHIP, but enrollment has been closed.

The State Legislature currently has the opportunity to broaden this much-needed program. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has requested $4.2 million to expand the state insurance plan. These funds would aid the program by reopening enrollment and by extending health care to another 10,000 children.

The $4.2-million price tag might sound like a lot, but the state now has $1.6 billion in surplus that can go a long way toward helping thousands of children in Utah. Still, some legislators are considering a $300-million tax cut that may negatively affect programs like CHIP.

Despite the fact that a big fat tax return might sound good now to Utahns, failing to expand this program would be detrimental in the long run.

CHIP pays for a range of medical costs such as basic check-ups, immunizations, dental and a variety of other services for a low price. This program is based on prevention. CHIP avoids expensive health-care costs in the future by maintaining regular check-ups and immunizations for children in Utah. By taking care of problems early on, families who would normally wait until the last minute to receive medical attention due to costs can now prevent the expensive trips to the emergency room that affect all Utahns through higher insurance premiums.

Before you start objecting that this is some crazy, liberal, socialist policy, let me point out that this has always been a bi-partisan effort. Utah’s own Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, joined Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., more than a decade ago to create the federal program, and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has thrown his support behind the state program by requesting the funds to expand CHIP.

Moreover, CHIP is not designed as a kind of “handout.” CHIP often helps families who have recently endured financial hardship, such as the loss of a spouse or economic problems. And ultimately, the program is designed to make sure that children who have no control over their situation have access to health care.

Tax cuts and funding for programs like CHIP do not have to be mutually exclusive. Legislators should simply be careful in making sure that all of Utah’s needs are met before handing out large sums in tax cuts.

When it comes down to it, the Legislature should remember that the health of Utah’s children is not a liberal or conservative matter. This is an issue that affects us all, and investing in the health of children now will help Utah in the long run.