Opinion

Sens. Gardner and Bennet: Rural Colorado kids are counting on you to save CHP+

Author: Christy Dodd - November 30, 2017 - Updated: November 30, 2017

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Christy Dodd
Christy Dodd

When it comes to health disparities, it’s a tale of the teeth: Families of color and low-income kids and families are less likely to have access to dental care. This can lead to a lifetime of problems, including serious illness. Diabetes, heart disease and stroke are all associated with poor oral health.

Which makes the potential shutdown of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHP+) — it helps provide dental care to low-income kids in Colorado — even more dire. According to Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Finance, “If Congress does not renew federal funding, CHP+ in Colorado will end on January 31, 2018.” About 90,000 children and pregnant women access care through CHP+, which has helped bring down Colorado’s uninsured rate for kids from about 8 percent in 2009 to almost 3 percent in 2015.

We know that Colorado U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet care about kids. And as an oral-health-care advocacy organization we are asking them to please act in a bipartisan way to reauthorize this critical program that supports so many families. Families depend on CHP+ for dental care — especially rural kids in areas where dental care service may be scarce. Seven counties in Colorado have no dental providers at all.

Rural Colorado kids are far less likely to see a dentist. Geographic isolation, lack of transportation, high rates of poverty, acute provider shortages, and lack of access to community water fluoridation contribute to high rates of oral disease in rural Colorado. These kids need access to health care, and CHP+ helps provide it.

CHP+ in Colorado provides health insurance to working families who don’t qualify for Medicaid but also can’t begin to meet the premiums and deductibles associated with private health insurance. Through the program, kids and pregnant women get the health care they need and the healthy starts they deserve. Much like private insurance, families using the program pay annual fees and co-pays for visits.

Unlike some private health insurance or no insurance at all, the program also helps families facing financial challenges by protecting them from crushing medical debt — traditionally a leading reason for personal bankruptcy. In Colorado, families of four with incomes up to $63,960 are eligible for the program. In Weld County alone, more than 6,000 kids and pregnant women use the program annually to get access to the health and dental care they need.

Colorado has worked to ensure the provider network for the program is pediatric-focused, which puts kids’ health first and provides lower cost-sharing options than in private plans. The program includes important benefits, including dental, that often aren’t found in other plans. This attention to a pediatric-focused benefits package is particularly important to kids with chronic issues who often require specialty care.

Simply switching to private insurance isn’t a solution for the working families who need the program. For example, the maximum annual enrollment fee for a family on CHP+ is $75, or about $6.25 per month. The cheapest catastrophic health plan in Greeley for a child is $130.95 monthly — a 1,995 percent increase. That increase climbs to at least $144 a month — a 2,200 percent jump — if you live in many of Colorado’s rural counties. And these catastrophic health plans still would expose families to very high out-of-pocket costs, including large deductibles.

For nearly 20 years, the program has enjoyed broad support at the local, state and federal level. There is no reason it should not continue to enjoy this support because its value is clear. While the fate of health care in America continues to be debated, this is a program that simply deserves to continue.

Please, Sens. Gardner and Bennet, help Colorado kids and families and act to save CHP+.

Christy Dodd

Christy Dodd

Christy Dodd is executive director of Oral Health Colorado.