State insurance program largely ignored

— As Colorado students return to the classroom, the state is hopeful parents will include health insurance on their children's back-to-school lists.

September is a prime time for families to take their children's well-being into account, said Cindy Parmenter, communications director for the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Affordable health insurance for the children of parents who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance is available, but it remains an untapped resource, Parmenter added.

For a flat annual fee of $25 for one child and $35 for any additional child, families who qualify for the Colorado Child Health Plan Plus can ensure their children receive a wide range of health services.

Yet families are hesitant to apply for the program because they assume their income is too high, said Fran Jenkins, head of Routt County's CHP+ enrollment efforts.

Under new CHP+ guidelines, a family of four can earn up to 185 percent of the poverty level, or about $32,000 annually, and still qualify for the program.

Jenkins is part of a recent statewide effort to provide health insurance coverage to more of Colorado's eligible children. Like many others who are involved in efforts to aid parents who want to sign up for the insurance, she said she is not satisfied with the number of people who are enrolled.

The program began a few years ago but higher insurance premiums of up to $360 a year discouraged families from enrolling their children.

The Legislature drastically scaled back those premiums in August 2000 after Gov. Bill Owens canceled $650,000 in back payments owed by families enrolled in the program.

A campaign to enroll 35,000 of Colorado's 69,000 eligible children who are younger than age 18 followed the cancellation of those back payments.

That goal was met by June 30 of this summer, CHP+ Director Barbara Ladon said.

Now efforts are aimed at reaching the rest of those eligible children, she said.

"Their parents are the ones who fall between the cracks because they don't qualify for Medicaid and they can't afford the booming costs of private insurance," Ladon said. "We've got to let them know that there is another option out there."

The state estimates about 14 percent of Colorado children returning to school this fall will not have health insurance.

Those uninsured children are more likely to miss class because they are sick, Jenkins said.

The program covers such services as doctor visits, immunizations, school physicals, hospitalization, eyesight checkups and mental health services. Dental services will be offered in February.

Families who may think they qualify for CHP+ should call Jenkins at 879-1632.

Even those families with incomes greater than $32,000 may still qualify, she said.

Deductions can be made for financial obligations, such as child care, elder care, child support or current prescription payments.

They can also call (800) 359-1991 to speak with a customer service representative.

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