Over the last 20 years, the U.S. has seen the percentage of uninsured children fall to a historic low thanks, in part, to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Now Congress has placed the popular program at risk by letting it expire, health care advocates warned Dec. 1.
In September, Congress failed to reauthorize the program, commonly known by its acronym CHIP, even though it has enjoyed support from Republicans and Democrats. Since then, some states have been juggling funds to keep CHIP running.
But now six states – Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon – say CHIP money could run out by the end of December or early January, and more than half of states will run out over the next six months, according to a briefing on the issue led by Families USA.
Leaving the program in limbo threatens to seed chaos and fear not only among state programs, but also among lower-income families who rely on CHIP for their children’s coverage. States could begin sending notices to families soon, and some are already tapping reserves and thinking about cutting off new families, according to experts at the Dec. 1 briefing..
“This year has had a very different feel to it,” Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, said. “I worry a lot about seeing a chilling effect.”
The CHIP program plays a critical role in the U.S. health care system, often providing families living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line with health care coverage for their children. In 2016, of the 40.6 million Americans who were poor one third were kids, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It gives you a way to be working and protect your children’s health,” Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, said at the briefing. “These families who are really living on the margin…a $10,000 hospital bill would really devastate them.”
Supporters of the program remain hopeful that Congress could reauthorize CHIP in December as part of a continuing resolution that would broadly fund government operations. But, there are no guarantees Congress will take that step.
“This is an easy win for them,” Isasi added. “They just need to get it over the finish line as fast as possible.”
There does not appear to be clear congressional opposition to the popular program, and there are separate bills in the House and Senate. But, legislators have debated how to fund it, The Washington Post reported.
Given CHIP’s success, the 9 million families it serves, and its popularity, Congress should move quickly, Families USA’s Isasi said.
“We should just get it done.”
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News.
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