As a pediatrician caring for more than 100 children each week in the rural community of Brewton, Alabama, I’ve seen some of my patients grow into parents themselves, bringing in their children to see me as their doctor. Throughout my 33 years practicing pediatrics here, I’ve observed many changes in the field of medicine; advances in technology, new diagnoses, research that has helped shed light on how to prevent some conditions that were previously untreatable. I’ve also seen changes in insurance coverage over the years, and observed how insurance impacts the health of my patients, particularly children with complex health conditions.
One source of insurance coverage that has helped Alabama’s children stay healthy over the years is All Kids, our state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). All Kids works for children in Alabama; in fact, we were the very first state to enact our CHIP program when the federal government matched our state’s funding in 1997. There is a strong bipartisan history to CHIP, and its funding runs out next year
Through CHIP, children receive age-appropriate benefits, including dental coverage and access to mental health and substance abuse services, which aren’t always covered by a family’s employer-sponsored insurance. And since families whose children qualify for CHIP may earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid but can’t quite afford private coverage, this program has become a lifeline for more than 8 million children across the country and more than 112,000 children here in Alabama.
Uninsured children are three times more likely than insured children to lack access to a needed prescription medicine, five times more likely to have an unmet need for medical care and thirty percent less likely to receive medical treatment if they are injured. Since CHIP was created, the number of uninsured children has been cut in half, while the number of uninsured adults rose significantly. In fact, in 2012, Medicaid and CHIP provided health insurance to more than 50% of children in the United States, making both programs combined the largest insurer of U.S. children.
A few months ago, I ran into a mother in Walmart whose three children are patients of mine. I told her I hadn’t seen her in a while, and she told me it was because her children’s deductible on their private insurance was thousands of dollars a year and she couldn’t afford for them to see me. Not too long after that, the same mother came in to my office with all three children, telling me that when she and her husband enrolled in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, she found out that her children were eligible for All Kids. Suddenly she could afford to take them in for a visit to get caught up on their immunizations, which we did right then. The peace of mind she and her husband were able to have knowing that their children were in good hands with All Kids is just another benefit that comes from having affordable, quality health insurance.
Unfortunately, federal funding for CHIP ends in October 2015. In order to keep CHIP strong for children, Congress should fund the program without delay so that Alabama and other states can plan for CHIP’s future. I joined other pediatricians in Washington, DC last month urging my federal legislators to do just that, and to step up to champion the program that has helped so many children in our state.
Even as we work to renew and extend CHIP, the good news is that CHIP enrollment is open all year round; there is no end date for families to sign up for coverage. To learn more about Medicaid and CHIP and how to enroll, visit Healthcare.gov or your state’s Medicaid agency, or call 1-877-KIDSNOW.
As we celebrate today as the day after Mother’s Day, let’s also celebrate CHIP and all it’s done and continues to do for children across the country.