Sick Children No Longer Something Congress Can Agree On

Children are our nation’s future. They are tomorrow’s workers, teachers, and leaders, and their well-being is a worthy investment. Back in 1997, when about 14% of children in the United States did not have health insurance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was created by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, and passed into law by Congress. They hoped to lower the percentage of uninsured juveniles and change the fate of millions of children for the better.

Fast-forward to 2017. Today, only about 4.5% of our nation’s children are uninsured, largely thanks to CHIP. However, CHIP’s funding expired this past September, and Congress has yet to provide a definitive answer as to whether the program will continue or not.

What is CHIP?

CHIP provides low-cost pediatric health insurance to families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford private insurance. CHIP’s enrollment requirements and benefits vary by state, but coverage is comprehensive in all states and often includes prenatal care.

Although states do help fund the program, most of the cost is subsidized by the federal government. Federal funds have already begun to run out, which means the health care coverage of millions of children will expire as early as December 2017 in some states, and in the early months of 2018 for others.

What the end of CHIP could mean

What will happen to approximately 9 million children currently covered by CHIP? In some states, thousands of letters have already been sent out to parents to inform them that their coverage may end in 2018. Even if Congress decides to renew CHIP in the coming months, the damage has already been done.

Parents of uninsured children may be able to buy other plans, but most will likely go without. This will cause a spike in the percentage of uninsured children, and great heartache for thousands of families who will no longer be able to take their kids to the doctor or dentist when necessary. It is also important to note that according to a study by Brigham Young University and Arizona State, the expenditure on healthcare from government actually goes up when children lose their CHIP coverage. The lack of routine care means that the number of children needing to use the Emergency Room increases, which is more expensive than funding regular health check-ups.

Where did things go wrong?

Senator Orrin Hatch (Rep – UT) has made it clear where things have gone wrong with the bill he helped create in 1997. In his words “We (the federal government) don’t have any money anymore.” Oddly, his solution for that seems to be supporting hefty tax cuts for the wealthy and gutting the funds needed to pay for CHIP altogether.

When CHIP’s renewal date came up in September of 2017, the Senate was already preoccupied with another attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act; making the strategic decision to ignore it altogether. On November 30th, CHIP’s fate was brought up for debate, but tax cuts took priority and it was tabled again. Who cares right? It’s only sick kids after all.

What’s Coming

In order to keep CHIP running, 15 billion dollars will have to come out of somebody’s pocket. Unfortunately for America’s children, that pocket apparently won’t be President Trump’s 2018 budget, which includes cuts for CHIP instead of funds. Some states may be able to cover some children through Medicaid, or with leftover CHIP funds from other years.

But this money will not last forever. “I don’t know anyone here who isn’t going to support CHIP,” Hatch said, referring to his fellow senators during the November 30th debate. That may be true, but words won’t provide health care for 9 million children. It’s high time for Congress to put the money where their mouth is.

Jimmy Kimmel, whose son had to go through multiple surgeries, has been one of the loudest advocates for CHIP. Here’s his most recent emotional plea to protect the program:

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