The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

CHIPped Teeth

By Rachel Proctor May, February 11, 2005, News

When Yvette Hernandez's daughter got a tooth infection last month, the El Paso mother faced a choice: she could either wait until May for the only qualified specialist on her insurance plan to have an open slot, or she could cross over to Mexico and get the work done in Juarez for one-fifth the price.

"I'll sit on a bridge for two hours to get the treatment my family needs," she said. "It's either wait two hours or wait until May."

Hernandez, a sixth-grade teacher, says that's what "everyone" does in El Paso, especially those who depend on the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. After the hacking and slashing of the 2003 budget cycle, CHIP no longer covers dental or vision expenses. That's why Hernandez came to Austin on Monday: she was part of a rally of Industrial Areas Foundation chapters from around Texas who gathered to urge legislators to fully restore CHIP funding. In addition to CHIP, the group also rallied around the need to come up with a school finance plan that doesn't involve gambling (video slot machines is one funding element that the Lege has kicked around), though they had no specific alternative to offer. But it was CHIP that generated the most emotion, and they may have some luck – Republican leaders have already expressed interest in restoring dental and vision benefits to CHIP.

While that won't help Hernandez, whose "very bad" insurance is private, it would help Rosalie Tristan of Raymondville, in the Rio Grande valley, who also attended the rally. Tristan is a student at UT-Pan American; her three children are on CHIP, and they also get their dental care in Mexico. She finds this outrageous. "I have to go to Mexico to get dental care, and I live in the United States?" she said. Plus, she said that all the cross-border adventures in dental hygiene hurt more than the families with sick kids.

"My friend just graduated as a dental technician, and she can't find a job anywhere," she said. Perhaps she should try Juarez.

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