I’m an English professor. It’s a good job. I’m paid generously to talk with students about literature and help them learn to write well. I have excellent benefits from one of the best health insurance providers in the country, I’ve got a decent retirement plan, and a discount at the campus cafeteria. Life is pretty good. But I was in school for ten years before I became a professor, and during this time I worked as a graduate assistant and picked up all kinds of odd jobs just to put food on the table. For much of the time I was in school, my three boys benefited in one way or another from the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In fact, without CHIP, I would have often faced the difficult choice to either take my child to the doctor and incur large amounts of debt, or stay home and hope my child gets better on his own.
Now, if a child has a low-grade fever, the choice of whether or not to go to the doctor is a pretty standard parental judgement call. I’ve made that choice in the middle of the night to stay home and avoid the $75 urgent care fee, but I’ve also made the choice to pay it. However, if a kid breaks his arm, or comes down with strep throat, or has a life-threatening allergic reaction, or as my son did when he was seven, gets a key ring the size of a quarter lodged in his throat, a parent has little choice but to seek medical help, with or without insurance.
The night my son swallowed that key ring, I’d been out on a church errand, and when I walked in the house, the whole family was standing around him, looking concerned. He’d slid the key ring onto his front teeth while playing in his bedroom, and the ring had sprung off and shot right down his throat. He could talk and breath okay, but he had terrible chest pain.
It was a Sunday night, so we took him to the local ER where they took some x-rays and then put him in a bed to monitor for a few hours, hoping the ring would pass on its own. However, by nine p.m. the ring hadn’t budged, so they sent us home with instructions to come back the next day.
My son got a restless night’s sleep and in the morning after another x-ray showed the ring was still stuck in the middle of his chest, the doctor decided to use a throat scope to extract it. We made an appointment for later that day at the same hospital and after some general anesthetic and a three-minute procedure with a specialist, the ring was out and we were on our way home.
In the mail a few weeks later I received a medical statement detailing the cost of my son’s care—that three minute procedure with the specialist cost nearly $6000—about 20% of our income at the time. CHIP paid for all but a few hundred dollars of it. Without CHIP, I would have had to put the money on my credit card, or take out a personal loan at the bank, and add significantly to my student-loan debt.
Sure, we probably could have weathered adding another $6000 to our debt, but the ring incident was just one of many. During graduate school we dealt with eye infections, an abscess tooth, dangerously high fevers, heart tremors, cavities, and a number of other typical childhood maladies. Without CHIP our medical debt could have quickly outstripped our student-loan debt.
Now imagine your child has diabetes, or a congenital heart condition, or cancer. If you happen to have good insurance you might be okay, but what if you’re a graduate student working on a PhD, or a single mother working two part-time jobs, or real estate agent in training, or any other job that doesn’t come with insurance. Without a program such as CHIP, millions of kids around the country will suffer. Parents who are already stretched thin trying to make ends meet will find themselves stretched even further stressing over how to keep their kids healthy and out of the ER (the only other option when you don’t have insurance). CHIP serves as a much needed leg up for people trying to better their lives. It serves to protect children who have no say over their own financial situation.
I am grateful that CHIP was there for us as a temporary safety net during a time in my life when I was investing in my future by getting an education. I’m grateful to all those who paid the taxes that went to help support my family while we were temporarily in need. And now that I am a tax payer myself, I am grateful that some of those taxes can go to help people who were in my same situation, or much worse.
Congress must reauthorize the CHIP program. It’s not only an investment in the future of our country, it’s the humane thing to do.
Contributing Editor: Joey Franklin
Joey Franklin is a father of three who works as an essayist and English Professor in Provo, UT. He is the author of the book My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married, and can be found online at joeyfranklin.com.