This week, the fate of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and health access for millions of children hangs in the balance. For the first time in a generation, millions of families are beginning to wonder whether CHIP will survive to serve their children.
Back in 1985 when the mills had closed and the region's jobs had disappeared, people in Pittsburgh dedicated themselves to safeguarding their children’s access to health care. The result became the prototype for CHIP, which Pennsylvania enacted statewide in 1992. It was so successful that in 1997 Congress launched the same program nationwide, and today it serves nearly 9 million children across our country, including 180,000 in Pennsylvania and 14,000 in our own county.
For decades, parents have counted on CHIP to keep their kids healthy, to help with getting the glasses or flu shots they need and for those visits to the Emergency Room. In Pennsylvania, we know that CHIP has helped us move so close to our goal of covering all kids. Almost 96% of all children in our commonwealth currently have health insurance.
CHIP has made us all proud. It’s a smart program that is known for high quality. From its inception, it has never been a partisan policy; elected leaders from both parties and across the country had steadfastly supported it. Parents had confidence that CHIP would be around; they've trusted it and had faith in its reliability. Simply put, CHIP is the right thing for kids.
All that hangs in the balance this week.
The deadline to reauthorize CHIP came and went in September and Congressional leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, repeatedly moved the deadlines back. They have repeatedly reassured the public that “CHIP would get done.” They have delayed and delayed.
And, now, here we are celebrating the holidays and preparing for the new year and Congress has not reauthorized one of the nation’s most essential and successful programs for our children.
Late last week, the House of Representatives slapped together another continuing resolution to continue appropriations for 2018. They failed to craft a stand-alone bill with language for a clean 5-year reauthorization of CHIP and a debate on the program’s merits. Instead, they slopped CHIP reauthorization language into a “cromnibus” bill filled with everything from military spending to revisions to Medicaid to relief for Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, some of the language has already mired other bills in partisan wrangling and failure. There is no reason to think this bill with CHIP language will fare any better.
As if that weren’t bad enough, states are sending letters to families warning them of the possible end of coverage for children, because without the historically strong partnership between states and the federal government, CHIP will end. Even if Congress does pass its “cromnibus” bill, this very threat is destroying parents’ trust in CHIP. Congress recently cobbled together emergency funds to keep CHIP going in certain states, but Pennsylvania will not receive these funds. If Congress does not act by week’s end, approximately 10% of our kids will lose their health insurance next year, leading to fewer preventative check-ups and less care for sick children.
For more than two decades, CHIP has successfully served children from all sorts of families as they grow. Our children must not lose their health care.
This is a deciding moment for our children.
Executive Director, Allies for Children