Utah Legislature approves expanded eligibility for CHIP


Boram Kim


The Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill 217 on Thursday, which would create alternative eligibility requirements for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).


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The legislation authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to prioritize and enlist children who are at 200% of the FPL or below but are ineligible for CHIP coverage due to their family’s immigration status. It reserves funding to enroll these children.

When allocated funding is depleted, DHHS will also establish a waitlist for these children and open funding for the program to other private sources to maintain ongoing enrollment.

Speaking on the House floor on Wednesday, bill co-sponsor Rep. James Dunnigan (R – Taylorsville) outlined the healthcare needs of these children.

“In fact, we know that they go and seek medical care but many times they don’t get preventive care, they don’t get primary care, they wait until there’s a crisis and they go to the emergency room in the hospital,” Dunnigan said. “And we’re thinking that they run up over eight to nine million dollars a year of uncompensated care.

And so what this bill does [is] it takes $4.5 million dollars, puts it into a restricted account. And we’re gonna give these kids the same coverage as CHIP kids. And so the intent of this is that they can go see the doctor, they can get their care before it becomes a crisis, they get preventive care, and then we’ll evaluate the thing.”

It creates an expendable fund as an ongoing appropriation from general revenues to cover associated healthcare costs. The final amended version establishes data collection requirements along with a five-year review period for the program.

Ciriac Alvarez Valle, senior policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children, described to State of Reform some of the barriers to health that exist for these children. 

“So a lot of them just don’t have health insurance—just how not having health insurance in general, makes people not be able to have a primary healthcare provider,” Alvarez Valle said. “So they’re less likely to get those preventative services or those wellness child visits and often end up in emergency room departments or they end up with uncoordinated care versus a yearly checkup or preventative care to be able to thrive [and] have a good, healthy life.”

Utah currently ranks 10th in the nation for best overall health of children, according to a report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Alvarez Valle said the state’s high ranking is due to its family-friendly policies. 

However, she points out Utah also has one of the highest rates of suicide for kids per capita, one of the highest rates of uninsured kids (8%) in the whole country, and deteriorating air quality that is contributing to rising asthma rates. 

Alvarez Valle, who worked closely with Dunnigan and Sen. Luz Escamilla (D – Salt Lake City) on legislation impacting children’s health this session, said SB 217 is a great step forward for addressing the health concerns of more children in the state. 

“We think this is a great, family-friendly approach to get these kids in primary preventative care,” Alvarez Valle said. “It’s a private-public partnership that will be established. So different organizations, private entities, can donate into the restricted account. It’s for working-class families. And we think this is a compassionate approach for these kids. But we also know that this is a fiscally responsible approach for covering all of these children.”