As we indulge our sweet tooth later this week in heart-shaped candy, keep in mind that cupid shares the spotlight with Children's Dental Health Month in February. Unfortunately, we need a special month to focus attention on children's mouths because our healthcare system has a history of treating oral health as an afterthought. Although it is Children's Dental Health Month, I want to stress that the overall health of children is in jeopardy unless federal funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is extended.
Unfortunately, CHIP's future is up in the air -- federal funding could expire on September 30, 2015.
CHIP covers a full range of health and dental needs of millions of children and is critical for their health and future well-being. It is essential to millions of working families as it provides affordable comprehensive health coverage to more than 8 million children and 370,000 pregnant women from working families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private coverage.
If funding for the program runs out, millions of children will be moved into marketplace coverage and could end up without dental coverage, or with dental coverage significantly more expensive than under CHIP. A recent report by the Wakely Consulting Group estimated that families' cost sharing could increase by up to 10 times what they pay out of pocket under CHIP. In addition, nearly 2 million of today's CHIP-covered children would be ineligible for subsidized coverage on the marketplaces as a result of the so-called "family glitch."
Even beyond the important coverage statistics, CHIP is also a sound budgetary decision. According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, much of the cost of a CHIP extension would be offset by reductions in other federal spending. Further, according to a recent report by MACPAC, an independent commission advising Congress, the federal portion of CHIP funding for two more years would be offset by reductions in federal spending for Medicaid and subsidized marketplace coverage, because children would not enroll in those programs if CHIP is available.
Congress must extend funding now: Unless Congress acts soon, there will be no new funding for CHIP after September 30, 2015. State legislatures, governors, and state agencies are making decisions now about transitioning families out of CHIP coverage. Any disruption to CHIP, even temporary, will hurt millions of families who rely on this coverage and will increase the number of uninsured children.
Congress must act now to extend CHIP funding through 2019. This extension will give children uninterrupted, affordable coverage while new options are created in the marketplace.
To learn more about the future of CHIP, please visit this Children's Dental Health Project (CDHP) page.
This column first appeared on CDHP's website.
Meg Booth, MPH, is the director of policy at the Children's Dental Health Project in Washington, DC. She manages CDHP's efforts to improve the health and healthcare systems for children. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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