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Building on CHIP’s success across the country

Marian Wright Edelman | 2/17/2014, 9:36 a.m. | Updated on 2/17/2014, 9:36 a.m.
Marian Wright Edelman

(NNPA) – We’re used to making a big fuss over children’s birthdays, but this week child advocates and families across the country are celebrating the Children’s Health Insurance Program on the fifth anniversary of its reauthorization. One family who lives in the working-class Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia with their 6-, 4- and 3-year-old children told us they celebrate and are grateful for CHIP every day. The husband is a talented freelance videographer and the wife cares for the children.

CHIP has been a lifeline for the family, providing stability with health and dental coverage for the children. With CHIP coverage, she gets regular phone calls reminding her it’s time for appointments or letting her know a dental van is in the area. CHIP has opened doors to high quality child-appropriate providers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Health System when needed and provided peace of mind for the hardworking father, whose income can vary wildly from month to month and year to year. CHIP has given him security knowing his children are getting the care they need without breaking the bank. The wife says, “The kids wouldn’t have had health insurance if it wasn’t for CHIP.”

There are more than 8 million children with stories like this. To survive and thrive, all children need access to comprehensive, affordable health coverage that is easy to get and keep. Unmet health and mental health needs can result in children falling behind developmentally and having trouble catching up physically, emotionally, socially and academically. And it can mean life or death for children from preventable disease and illness.

CHIP has strong bipartisan roots. It was created in 1997 when Democrats and Republicans, led by Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., came together to create a system of health coverage for children whose families earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to be able to buy health coverage that today costs on average more than $16,000 a year for a family of four in the individual market. CHIP continues to provide crucial support for millions of working families: 92 percent of all children enrolled in CHIP had at least one parent employed during the last year. Since its creation CHIP has helped cut the number of uninsured children in half, to the lowest level on record, while improving child health outcomes and access to care.

By preserving and strengthening CHIP and Medicaid and creating new coverage options for parents, access to health coverage is now available for 95 percent of all children in America. But eligibility and access to coverage do not guarantee enrollment. While 42 million children are enrolled in CHIP and Medicaid, more than 8 million in CHIP alone, more than 7 million children under 19 are still uninsured. Nearly 70 percent of these uninsured children are eligible for but not enrolled in CHIP or Medicaid.

We know health-related problems can lead to poor academic performance and that uninsured children are more likely to perform poorly in school than children with coverage. CDF has partnered with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, to link uninsured children with health coverage by adding a question to school enrollment forms asking whether children have health coverage and helping connect uninsured students with coverage.