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Letter to the Editor: Readers deserve the rest of CHIP story

Dear Editor:

"Tell me more" has often been my request to people who have contacted me with their concerns. The same recommendation holds true for readers and listeners who may not have been given complete or correct information about an issue. Writers of recent newspaper columns have been critical of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as implemented by the North Dakota legislature. Readers deserve "the rest of the story," as Paul Harvey used to say.

The CHIP program was established in 1997 after having been authorized by the federal government. The N.D. legislature chose to make it a broad-based program for those who need it most, including benefits such as dental, vision, and pre-natal care which some other states did not offer. One very important fact about the N.D. program is that income eligibility is based on net income. There are over forty deductions and income disregards which are considered as part of the eligibility calculation. The goal has been to support working families by deducting expenses such as child care and disregarding income from foster care payments, earned income tax credits, and income tax refunds, to name a few.

North Dakota CHIP currently covers children in families up to 160% of the federal poverty level. That is $35,280/year for a family of four. However, depending on the family's situation, they can earn significantly more and still qualify for coverage. Caring for Children, a private foundation, provides medical coverage for children whose families have incomes from 161% to 200% of the federal poverty level, which is $44,100 for a family of four. To match states which cover up to 400% of poverty, as some writers have suggested, North Dakota would be providing coverage for families earning up to $88,200.

The state has also changed eligibility criteria for Medicaid which has resulted in significantly more children being enrolled in the more comprehensive Medicaid program, at the same time reducing the number in CHIP. The result has been an increase in the total number of children insured. In June 2009, there were 3224 enrolled in CHIP and 35,012 in Medicaid for a total of 38,236 covered kids. In June 2010, there were 3565 in CHIP and 37,761 in Medicaid, totaling 41,326. The increase of 3090 covered children can in part be explained by the increase in eligibility levels, but also by the effectiveness of the outreach program to get qualifying families to enroll their children.

Enrollment of all qualifying children is the goal, and it has been simplified by having families complete one application form which will first consider the family for Medicaid coverage, then for CHIP, and finally for Caring for Children, depending on the family's qualifying income. Anyone who does not have health insurance for their children should call the toll-free number 1-877-KIDSNOW (1-877-543-7669) or contact their county social services office. Applications are available on-line at

Let's work together to ensure that all children who qualify for health insurance are enrolled and receive the health care that they need, and get away from trying to score unearned political points. Our children are too important for such partisan games.

Senator Judy Lee

West Fargo