CHIP funding critical for one local family
It was the sort of nightmare every family fears.
Martha Velazquez of Beaverton was making somewhere around $1,700 per month doing janitorial work. It was enough for rent and food, but when her son Diego started showing signs of hearing impairment, she faced potentially astronomic medical bills.
Fortunately, the family qualified for the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which has made it possible for the family to get the diagnosis and treatment needed for Diego, now in second grade at William Walker Elementary School.
CHIP is a federal program, created in 1997, that provides health insurance for families that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Despite its bipartisan popularity — it was created by liberal Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy and conservative Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch — Congress allowed the program's funding to lapse in September 2016. The program became part of the debate in December and January over short-term funding options for the federal government.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown vowed to use state dollars to shore up the program through April, giving Oregon families some hope that their coverage wouldn't laps.
Then, in January, Congress reauthorized the program for the next six years.
"CHIP is a critical element to health care for Oregon's most vulnerable members," said Kasi Woidyla, public relations officer for the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center. "Maintaining this program will ensure that the kids of Oregon continue to have access to the basic health care they need to grow and thrive."
One such kid is Diego, now 8 and a second-grader at William Walker.
Last year, Diego's grades began to suffer. He wasn't following teachers' instructions. School officials labeled him with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and enrolled him in special education programs, according to his mother, Martha.
She didn't buy that. She noticed that her son didn't respond to her if he wasn't looking at her. He also began to talk much louder. She was convinced that the problem was his hearing.
Thanks to CHIP funding, she got him an appointment with an audiologist in March 2017. "The audiologist was really shocked at how much hearing loss," said Martha Velazquez, speaking through Spanish translator Stefanny Caballero.
Diego was fitted for a pair of small hearing aids. As soon as he had them, Martha said, she found him saying, "Hello, Diego. Hello, Diego."
"I asked him who he was talking to," Martha said. "It was himself. He hadn't heard his own voice in a long time."
Diego is still behind his grade level but his test results are improving dramatically, she said. "It's been live-changing for him."
When asked about his favorite subject in school, Diego is quick to say, "Writing!"
"There are times at night when he's just writing and writing. He writes all the time!" Martha added.
Could she have afforded the treatment without CHIP? Unlikely, she said, on what she was making cleaning offices. "I mean, I would have found a way to pay for it. I don't know how, but I would have," she said.
Diego is still losing his hearing and more tests have been scheduled through Virginia Garcia.
Thanks to the reauthorization of the federal program, the Velazquez family will be able to afford the services he needs.