The future of children’s health in Colorado–the good and the bad

Written by: Samantha Espinoza
Date Posted: August 30, 2019

Last year, congressional leaders reauthorized funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the Bipartisan Budget Act. This measure extended CHIP funding for an unprecedented 10-year period, and advocates seized the opportunity to explore how Colorado could improve its CHIP program (the Child Health Plan Plus or CHP+) for the families that rely on it for health coverage. The All Kids Covered Coalition commissioned a study, A healthy start: A road map to improving CHP+ in Colorado, which outlines areas of improvement for CHP+ and presents both short- and long-term policy-focused solutions. Despite this progress and policy options to improve CHP+, recent data also show a sharp decline in enrollment of Colorado kids in CHP+ and Medicaid.

The report offers potential solutions to achieve more comprehensive coverage, fewer coverage barriers and gaps, and a streamlined administration of the CHP+ program. One of the paper’s most notable policy suggestions is the combining of CHP+ and the state’s Medicaid program, Health First Colorado.

Health First Colorado benefits are more comprehensive, so aligning the two programs would increase coverage for pregnant women and children on CHP+ and lessen the effects of “churn”, income fluctuations that cause families to move between the two programs. Combining the two programs could also reduce administrative strain on the state’s small CHP+ staff, as well as overall administrative costs.

The report also relays the importance of aligning CHP+ improvements with initiatives to create an equitable health care system in Colorado. Various systems, including government programs like CHP+, determine how resources are distributed. In order to support health equity, the White Paper suggests that, stakeholders–including the policymakers responsible for the creation of these systems–must acknowledge the critical role they play in ensuring that those facing structural barriers have access to basic needs like affordable health care. Unfortunately, due to potentially declining child uninsured rates, advocates are unable to focus solely on enhancing care for Colorado’s kids.

The national child uninsured rate rose in 2017 for the first time in almost a decade. Although Colorado was not among the states whose saw a sharp increase in the number of children without health insurance, the state didn’t see any progress either. This is top of mind for advocates as new data show stark decreases in the rate of CHIP and Medicaid enrollment across the U.S., including Colorado.

Over the years, state level advocacy has helped dramatically decrease Colorado’s child uninsured rate from 14 percent in 2008 to about 4 percent in 2015. While advocates continue to work to remove barriers for the remaining 4 percent, the new opportunity to improve the quality of coverage is accompanied by the fear of losing gains in ensuring Colorado kids have health insurance. Experts are looking into the cause of enrollment decline but nothing official has been determined yet, and advocates in Colorado are also working to determine the reasons for declining enrollment for Colorado kids.

Samantha Espinoza

About Samantha Espinoza

Sam joined the Colorado Children’s Campaign staff as a Policy Analyst after serving as their Government Affairs Intern while completing her MSW at the University of Denver. Her portfolio of policy issues includes child health, family planning and maternal and infant mental health. Sam is a military veteran whose greater part of professional experience is grounded in research, advocacy and supporting children who face adversity.