Iowa begins a campaign dialogue that (so far) has overlooked kids' health

By: Meg Booth

As a native Iowan, I can’t help but feel the anticipation for tonight’s caucuses as I sit at my desk in Washington D.C. — 1000 miles away from my hometown. Not only do these caucuses have great significance for any campaign, but they also provide Iowans the first public opportunity to critically evaluate where the presidential candidates stand on issues that matter most to them. My personal priority is the lack of attention to children’s health, which I have been surprised by. The absence of a discussion about the future of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is disappointing given that roughly 8 million children count on CHIP for their medical and dental benefits.

My first job out of college included working on outreach and enrollment for Iowa’s CHIP program (hawk-i) during its inception. When I think of what could be lost if CHIP were to end, hawk-i always comes to mind first because it has grown to be a model that candidates should not overlook.

Among hawk-i’s unique strengths — and of great interest to me today at the Children’s Dental Health Project — is its focus on oral health. Dentists see children in public programs (Medicaid and CHIP) at a much higher rate compared to the national average (86% vs. 42%). In addition, Iowa is the only state that has exercised the option in CHIP to provide a supplemental dental benefit, which provides dental-only coverage to nearly 4,000 children who have private medical insurance but no dental coverage. Both components are critical to improving the health of children and building a healthy and productive workforce for the future.

Candidates should realize that Iowa stands alongside many other states that use CHIP to make medical and dental coverage affordable to working families. Unfortunately, as we previously discussed, despite consistently strong bipartisan support, CHIP is like a political candidate right now — unsure of its future. Without strong support from our next president and a willing Congress, CHIP’s federal funding will end in September of 2017, jeopardizing access to affordable coverage and care for the millions of children and their families who are currently covered by the program.

This presidential primary campaign season provides an ideal opportunity to raise the issue of CHIP’s future.

This presidential primary campaign season provides an ideal opportunity to raise the issue of CHIP’s future. I encourage citizens and advocates across the country to look for opportunities to ask the candidates about their commitment to CHIP when these candidates visit their states.

For me, tonight is not simply about which candidate comes out ahead; it’s about whether the many families who count on CHIP will come out ahead next year. We all have a chance to join my fellow Iowans to make a clear statement to candidates as they move on to New Hampshire and beyond that the future of our country hinges on the health of our children and their families.

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Did you know?

44% }
of U.S. children will have at least one cavity by kindergarten.
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