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Guest column

Kids deserve healthy start, and we can help provide it


When you work in public health, programs that substantially improve the health and well-being for thousands are the gold standard. This is especially true when the beneficiaries are kids, who all deserve a healthy start, and pregnant women, who are helping to launch the next generation.

But today in Colorado, we’re in danger of losing a program that achieves this standard, and our elected officials simply should not let that happen.

At issue is funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHP+, as it is known in Colorado. This funding is set to expire unless Congress acts by Sept. 30. In Colorado, this would mean the loss of about $250 million annually, which has been a source of healthy starts for kids for nearly 20 years since the program was passed with bipartisan support. More than 90,000 kids and pregnant women who were covered by CHP+ over the last year in our state stand to lose care if the funding goes away. In the Denver metro area alone, more than 45,000 kids and pregnant women used this program during 2016 to get access to quality, affordable health care.

CHP+ was designed by Colorado to meet our state’s specific needs, and it helps thousands of working families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford private insurance. The working families who are covered by the program simply don’t have the option to switch to private insurance and will likely be forced to have their kids go without coverage if the program goes away. For example, the maximum annual enrollment fee for a family on CHP+ is $75 or about $6.25 per month. By contrast, the cheapest catastrophic health plan in Denver for a child is $103 monthly — a 1,500 percent increase. And such a catastrophic health plan would still expose families to very high out-of-pocket costs, including large deductibles, which are estimated to be thousands of dollars greater than those under CHP+ coverage.

You don’t need to be a public health official to understand the value of a program like this one. Kids covered by CHP+ are more likely to have a regular primary care doctor and thus less likely to be hospitalized for a problem that could have been treated at a primary care visit. Common sense and research tell us that healthy kids are better learners in the classroom, have fewer absences from school, and are better prepared as they enter adulthood. Kids with health coverage are less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to graduate from college, and have higher incomes as adults.

With so much attention over the past six months to a possible repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, the importance of continuing the Children’s Health Insurance Program has been lost in the shuffle. We simply can’t allow programs like this one — with a proven track record and thousands relying on it — to simply go away. Our elected officials in Congress need to work together and act rapidly to preserve it. Even at this deeply contentious time in our national politics, we can all agree that kids deserve the healthiest start possible to maximize their potential. A proven bipartisan program like CHP+ deserves the support of Colorado’s entire congressional delegation.

John Douglas is executive director of the Tri-County Health Department serving Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.


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