We often hear “it takes a village to raise a child” and that adage certainly holds true for my childhood. I am the third oldest in a large family. My parents worked different shifts so one of them could usually be home with us while my grandparents filled in the gaps. Additionally, my two older sisters and I took on the responsibility, from a young age, to help with our younger siblings and make things a bit easier on our parents.
In 2002 my brother was born with Down Syndrome. After receiving the diagnosis while pregnant, my mom decided to leave her job as a grocery store manager to focus on his therapies, doctors’ appointments, and daily care. While this was the right decision for my brother and our family as a whole, this loss of income made private health insurance premiums unaffordable for my parents and their seven children.
I clearly remember the sudden shift in our finances when my mom left her job. On top of all the concerns and stress that come along with a child with special needs, my parents had to figure out how they could continue to pay their expensive private health insurance premiums. With their budget already stretched thin, my parents later told me they considered the difficult and risky option of saving money by forgoing health insurance coverage when, by chance, a WIC employee (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) recommended they look into health coverage through the Pennsylvania Children’s Health Insurance Program for me and my siblings. Had this WIC employee not mentioned it to my mom, she probably never would have learned about it. Now that I work in health policy and am earning my Master’s in Public Policy, I understand that many children are eligible but unenrolled in Medicaid or CHIP because their parents are not aware they qualify or that these programs even exist. I am so grateful to that WIC employee for educating my family about CHIP and I applaud all of those individuals and organizations that are working today to connect kids to coverage.
When my family enrolled in CHIP, we were able to keep our long-time pediatrician, which was a relief considering my brother’s special health condition. CHIP helped my parents and pediatrician ensure that my siblings and I stayed up-to-date on preventative care like physicals and childhood immunizations.
Eventually, my dad gained access to affordable family health insurance through his job and my siblings and I transitioned out of CHIP coverage. My family will always be thankful for the coverage we received during a difficult financial period. It gave my parents the peace of mind of knowing that they would be able to get their children the care they needed and be able to afford to keep themselves covered through a separate health insurance plan. (After all, children’s health and well-being also depend on healthy parents!) It’s difficult to recall all of the health emergencies that happened during our time enrolled in CHIP, but my siblings and I have endured broken bones and other injuries and needed other specialized care throughout our childhoods. We never had to worry about whether or not we could see a doctor when we were sick or get the emergency care we needed in the event of an injury.
As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Children’s Health Insurance Program this month, I am grateful for all the policymakers who established and worked to sustain this program for the past 25 years. CHIP allowed me and my siblings to stay covered, protected my family from the threat of crushing medical debt and alleviated some of the stress my parents were facing with the birth of a child with Down Syndrome combined with a loss of income. CHIP served as an important lifeline for my family during a critical period, and continues to be one for millions of families across the country as they struggle to make ends meet and support their children’s healthy development.