The value of CHIP dental coverage: A Q&A with one Wisconsin mom

By: Amy Cotton

Jessica Bigboy and her husband, Ryan Piehl, are raising three children in Odanah, Wisconsin. Both working parents, Jessica is on staff at a nonprofit supporting families whose children have mental health challenges. Ryan is a mechanic and is in public transportation. They are among the families of 9 million kids nationwide, and more than 171,000 in their state, who are worried that their children’s health coverage is under threat since Congress let federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) lapse nearly four months ago. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica recently when she came to Washington, D.C. to share her concerns about CHIP funding. She later spoke with the Children’s Dental Health Project about what CHIP and its dental benefit mean to her family.

Can you tell us about yourself and your family in the context of your health coverage?

I was born and raised in Wisconsin, though I went to college in Kansas. My husband and I both have jobs that offer insurance and that’s how we are covered. But it costs too much for a family of five. We have a 12 year-old son and two daughters, ages five and eight. Our kids keep us super busy, being involved with a lot of sporting activities. Even for our girls, it’s wrestling one day and dance the next. Thankfully, all three of our children are covered by [Wisconsin’s CHIP program,] BadgerCare. Our son has been enrolled since 2008, and our daughters have been covered since they were born.

What does dental coverage and care mean to your family?

My younger brother is 35 years old and has had awful tooth decay. He’s had all of his teeth pulled and has dentures. Back when we were younger, we didn’t have good dental care. If we could have had coverage when we were young, maybe he would still have his teeth. He talks about it with my kids.  

I am so grateful for the dental coverage my children have. They see the importance of oral hygiene. We’re lucky they haven’t had any serious problems. With BadgerCare, they have been provided with sealants, fluoride treatments, checkups and cleanings to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Right now, my husband and I only have medical coverage for ourselves; we don’t yet have dental or vision coverage. Cost is the main reason why we haven’t been able to add it to our plan yet. But we are hoping to add it soon. We preach to our kids about the importance of getting dental care — we should do the same thing.

Are there ways you and your husband support your children’s oral health at home?

My kids know they have to brush two times a day. They get kids’ floss sticks, mouthwash, and things like that as stocking stuffers at Christmas and in their Easter baskets. [As a parent,] I think anything we can do for them to make it not be so hard in the long run is what we should do; help them build good habits when they’re young.

 If our lawmakers were truly representing...the people, they would do what’s best for our kids because they are our future. It’s up to us to take care of them.

How has the uncertainty of CHIP funding affected your life? What would you do if Congress failed to extend CHIP funds?

It is something we have paid attention to — even our kids will ask about it. If we didn’t have dental coverage for our kids, I don’t know what we would do. I don’t know how much a cleaning or a checkup would be, or emergency care. It breaks my heart [to think about].

In Wisconsin, I know they can’t totally get rid of CHIP. [State officials have pledged to keep kids covered.] But that puts it on the state to make it up. So where will that leave the state’s budget and other important programs? Will our state make new stipulations around CHIP benefits or eligibility? Do we have to look into alternative health coverage? I can’t imagine what we would do, how much we would have to come up with weekly to pay for insurance.

It breaks my heart when I think about other families in Wisconsin, where there are so many rural communities. They maybe don’t have the best-paying jobs. It’s tough; it’s really tough. I see it a lot with what I do, working with a lot of families covered under BadgerCare. ...What would happen to them?

What is one message you would like to share with your members of Congress?

I’m thankful for the services my kids have through BadgerCare. There are so many factors involved with health care — vision, dental, mental health care — that are important to helping kids grow up to lead successful lives. If our lawmakers were truly representing Wisconsin and the people, they would do what’s best for our kids because they are our future. It’s up to us to take care of them. It does not seem like [our leaders] are taking this as seriously as they should. A lot of little lives will be affected.

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52% }
of new military recruits couldn't be deployed because of dental problems.
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