The political climate in Washington is tense right now — especially when it comes to health care.

However, some issues shouldn’t be controversial, like the future of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). For nearly 20 years, CHIP has provided comprehensive medical and dental coverage to children from families who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance options for their children. In 2016, nearly 9 million children in the United States were covered by CHIP — including 81,000 kids here in South Carolina.

The CHIP program has always enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support, and for good reason: It works. Thanks in part to CHIP’s dental coverage, more South Carolina children are going to the dentist than ever before, and untreated tooth decay among kids is at its lowest rate in 25 years.

Unfortunately, CHIP funding expires at the end of September, and thousands of South Carolina children will be at risk of losing their dental care by early next year if lawmakers do not act now.

As a dentist here in the Charleston area, I shudder to think what will happen to these kids if CHIP funding goes away. I’ve seen firsthand how access to a dentist — or lack thereof — can affect a child’s health and well-being.

Untreated tooth decay is painful. It makes it difficult for children to eat, speak, sleep and learn. It’s also expensive: Between 2008 and 2010, 4 million Americans went to the emergency room for dental problems at a cost of $2.7 billion. Those emergency visits, averaging $863 each, are roughly triple the cost of a regular dentist visit.

If we are truly committed to investing in South Carolina’s future, access to preventive medical and dental care for our children must be at the top of the list. Now is the time to put partisan politics aside and come together around a program that does a whole lot of good.

I urge Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott — along with other leaders in Congress — to work together to renew CHIP. Future smiles depend on it.

Ashlee Franklin, DDS

Dental Director

Kool Smiles

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