Low-cost health insurance for children an option for parents

One of the best ways to help your children have a good year in school is to make sure they have health coverage. Youngsters with insurance generally enjoy better health. They can focus on their studies and participate in sports.Your children may not currently have coverage for a number of reasons. You lost your job, your employer doesn't offer insurance, or you simply can't afford it. Whatever the cause, the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, may be able to help. More than 7 million youngsters now receive low-cost medical care through CHIP. The federal and state program has been a lifeline for children 18 and younger whose parents don't qualify for Medicaid but, through no fault of their own, don't have or can't afford private health insurance. The youngsters get regular check-ups, dental care, shots and prescription drugs. They're less likely to miss class and fall behind. Children with health insurance are also better able to participate in organized school sports. Without coverage, youngsters sometimes must pass up the chance to join a team because their families can't afford the necessary physical or their parents worry they couldn't pay the doctors' bills if their children were injured. Obviously, allowing as many students as possible to get coverage and get in the game is important to the children, who are eager to play sports. But it's also valuable to a country facing an epidemic of childhood obesity. One in three American children is now overweight or obese. That should be as startling as if one in three youngsters were found to have cancer. Unless we reverse this trend toward early obesity and the health problems it creates, we will have the first generation of Americans with a shorter lifespan than their parents. Getting all youngsters insured is an important first step to keeping them fit and conquering childhood obesity. With their children covered, families can develop standing relationships with doctors who can teach their young patients healthy lifestyles and tackle medical problems early, before they become serious. Still, as many as five million children are eligible for CHIP or Medicaid but not yet enrolled. Many families may think they make too much money to qualify for either program. Others may not even realize the help exists. Income guidelines vary by state. In California, for example, a family of four with an income up to $55,128 a year can get their children covered. In Arizona, a family of four may qualify with an income of up to $44,100. Even if you've been turned down before, you may be able to have your children insured now, since a number of states have recently broadened their eligibility for CHIP. CHIP has softened the blow when breadwinners have lost their jobs during the recession. But the program has also helped working parents when an employer has scaled back or ended group health coverage. A phone call is all it takes to determine if your children are eligible for low-cost health insurance. Call 1-877-KIDSNOW (1-877-543-7669) to talk with a representative or visit www.insurekidsnow.gov. Families can usually complete their applications over the phone, online or through the mail, without taking time from work. Once your child is enrolled, you'll be able to pick a physician for your child and see that doctor when your youngster falls sick. You won't have to worry about how you'll pay for the visit, and you won't have to sit for hours in an emergency room when your child could be easily treated in the doctor's office. Your children will also have access to prescription drugs and dental care to help them stay healthy. A year ago, President Obama and Congress added money to the CHIP program to expand children's health coverage. The goal now is to find and sign up each of the five million eligible youngsters who aren't enrolled. Children deserve good health care to reach their full potential. Parents shouldn't have to choose between paying for groceries and affording a doctor's visit. CHIP gives families control over their health care and the peace of mind that comes from knowing they'll get high-quality care when they need it. David Sayen is San Francisco regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

********** Published: September 9, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 21