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Children May Slip Through the Cracks. Thanks Congress.

Children May Slip Through the Cracks. Thanks Congress.
By Pete Levine ·

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a popular vehicle for reducing the number of uninsured children and cutting the child poverty rate. Though it has bipartisan support, this Congress has let the program expire.

Meanwhile, health care for 9 million children hangs in the balance.

AFSCME is pushing Congress to renew CHIP – which officially expired on September 30 – so these kids from low-income families can get the health care they need and deserve, but not at the expense of crucial programs that other vulnerable populations depend on.

The House has passed a bill renewing CHIP for five years, but the Senate has yet to take up its version.

The House bill would reauthorize, or extend the life of, CHIP for five years by making others lose health coverage under Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. That’s right: The House is only willing to fund CHIP by making cuts to other programs so vital to the health and well-being of millions of other Americans.

A Bipartisan Success Story

CHIP, funded with federal and state dollars, was established in 1997 to provide insurance to low-income kids who don’t qualify for Medicaid but whose parents either don’t receive insurance through work or can’t afford their employer-provided policies. In its 20 years of existence, CHIP has been credited with saving and improving kids’ health in a number of ways.

As the Los Angeles Times points out, CHIP has led to the uninsured rate among children dropping from 14 percent in 1997 to 5 percent last year. In an article in Salon, which called the holding pattern CHIP has been in “an act of violence not just against poor kids, but against all of America’s children,” the program was shown to benefit entire communities, not just the kids enrolled in it.

For instance, having more children insured means doctors get better at diagnosing the illnesses that make kids sick, which leads to kids growing up healthy, which in turn means entire communities are made healthier by the reduced occurrences of illness and diseases.

An Uncertain Future

According to the New York Times, state governments are currently shouldering the burden of paying for CHIP, but they can’t continue to do so forever without federal support. Unless Congress gets its act together, 42 states would need to begin closing their CHIP programs in the coming weeks and months, “which will be very challenging, costly, and time consuming,” according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

Unless Congress comes up with a CHIP bill that doesn’t benefit one vulnerable group at the expense of another, millions of Americans are likely to suffer as House and Senate leaders play politics. 

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