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Don’t trim crucial CHIP program

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About every 17 years, I find myself agreeing with Orrin Hatch. He's mad about the proposed $1 million cuts to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and as a teacher of children in shelter care, I want to add my voice to his in a bipartisan call for sanity.

There may be no better bang for our state buck than CHIP.

For every $1 the state funds, Utah receives $4 in federal funds to provide health insurance for the children of the working poor (families who work but make just above the poverty level and who do not qualify for Medicaid or have employer-provided health insurance). The cuts being proposed to lawmakers by the Department of Health make no sense whatsoever.

1. With an estimated 60,000 children in the state without health insurance, the proposal is to freeze enrollment in the program to the 26,700 children now covered. (That means that if a new baby is born into a family whose other children are covered by the program, that baby would not be able to be enrolled.)

2. Co-pays for doctor and hospital visits have been charged on a sliding scale based on income, but there have been no premiums charged. The new proposal is to charge up to $10 per child per month in premiums. The Public Employees Health Plan (which administers the program for the Department of Health) estimates that it will cost more in paperwork, billing, tracking and collecting these premiums than the state would make! Further, for a family of four children making just above minimum wage, paying upwards of $40 per month may be cost-prohibitive, defeating the intent of the program to reduce the number of uninsured poor children.

3. Perhaps the most disturbing are the changes in dental coverage. The new proposal would cover only exams and emergencies. (So if a dentist finds 10 cavities in a CHIP's child, he can examine them but not fill them. He would have to wait until they were so rotten they constituted an emergency, and then he could be paid to pull the teeth.) Finally, increasing the number of uninsured does not save money. These children will still get sick. The emergency room will again become their primary-care physician. And when parents can't pay, the costs will simply be passed on to those with insurance, a significant factor in the double-digit increases we're seeing in health insurance.

The governor and legislators must reject these disastrous cuts. This is no time to walk over federal dollars to pick up state dimes!

Lily Eskelsen is a teacher and former congressional candidate for Utah's 2nd District.