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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Improving Dental and Mental Health Benefits in CHIP

The Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) has taken a backseat to broader national health care reform over the past few months. However, as the health care debate proceeds in Washington, several states are taking advantage of the additional funding and new options available under CHIPRA to make significant improvements to their CHIP programs.

A new Families USA issue brief, Dental and Mental Health: Benefit Improvements in CHIPRA highlights two major changes CHIPRA makes to the CHIP benefits package.  Specifically, CHIPRA does the following:

  • Requires that states provide dental coverage to all children enrolled in CHIP.

  • Grants states that meet certain criteria a new option to provide dental-only coverage to children who do not qualify for full CHIP coverage.

  • Requires that states currently offering mental health or substance abuse services in their CHIP program must now provide the same level of benefits for those services as they do for medical and surgical services.

Dental care and appropriate mental health care are critical for a child's growth and development. However, research has shown that many low-income children struggle to access the dental and mental health care they need. These new CHIPRA provisions will help address long-standing shortcomings in both CHIP and in private health coverage, and they will protect the overall health of low-income children. In addition to these new requirements, CHIPRA makes several simplifications to help families more easily find care, including listing CHIP dental providers at

Though all states offer some level of dental and mental health benefits in CHIP, many will have to make substantial improvements under the new law. Advocates will play an important role in working with state officials to design dental and mental health benefits that comply with CHIPRA and in ensuring that children enrolled in CHIP have access to these vital services.