On Sept. 30, the healthcare of nearly 9 million children was put at risk when Congress failed to renew a government program that was vital to our nation’s overall health.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, otherwise known as CHIP, was put into place in 1997 and provided for children in families of low income and pregnant women of moderately low income. One of the main reasons for establishing the program was to ensure children’s insurance coverage when their families move out of the Medicaid bracket. “[CHIP is] one of the most important safety nets for one of the most vulnerable populations in our society,” said Assistant Political Science Professor Sara Angevine. “I am surprised at the lack of attention the media is giving this issue — especially when you look at how children’s health affects the general public good.”
Originally, it was a bipartisan program and was one of the first steps in bridging the gap between who is eligible for the program. “In principle, they still agree it is worthwhile,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew Dzeguze, “but it is a sign of the partisan times that, instead of focusing on funding CHIP, they spent all of their allocatable time on a long-shot ACA repeal that didn’t succeed.”
According to The Kaiser Foundation, the percentage of uninsured children was lowered from 14 percent in 1997 to 4.5 percent in 2015 due to the program. Like Medicaid, CHIP was paid for by both the federal and state government. The federal government supplied funding to the states for providing health care that complied with specific qualifications. States then individually decided the services they would cover as long as it followed the rules laid out at the federal level. Enrollment fees were very affordable and co-pays varied according to your income so it was easily accessible to all who qualified.
According to the government health care website, CHIP provides children’s services such as routine check-ups, immunizations, prescriptions, dental and vision care, and emergency care — just to name a few. For pregnant women, it provides prenatal doctor visits, prenatal vitamins, labor and delivery, and after hospital check-ups.
One argument against Medicaid has always been that those who qualify for the program could potentially find higher paying jobs that would give them access to health care without government assistance. However, that does not apply to CHIP. Children who qualify for CHIP belong to families who have worked their way out of the Medicaid bracket but still need a reliable access to necessary health care.
You might be wondering why Congress did not make a decision on the bipartisan program before the September deadline. In the weeks prior to the expiration, Congress was preoccupied with another failed repeal of the Affordable Care Act. CHIP was not as high of a priority for Republican leaders because they knew states had some extra funding. As for now, the states’ remaining budgets for CHIP will continue to deplete until the program is renewed. Dzeguze said that the nonrenewal “is a reminder that the federal government, generally, is under no obligation to fund these programs. There is no automatic promise of funding.” It is estimated that many states will run out of funds by the end of the year, while nearly all states will run out by next summer.
In Minnesota, a state of “extraordinary measures” was set on Oct. 1 to try and preserve the last of their allotted state funds. The state’s CHIP fund was nearly empty by the time of the deadline. They removed coverage of pregnant women for prenatal and postpartum care as a way to stretch out what little money they have. This “extreme measure” is barely a temporary solution, yet it will soon be the reality for many states. In 2016, over two million children in California were enrolled in CHIP. Our state’s budget is estimated to only last through December of this year.
Negotiations are underway, but Congress is still not acting fast enough. Weak attempts have been made to push CHIP into the schedule. With the House of Representatives being on recess this week and with the Republican majority party trying to stray away from health care funding, it looks like we can continue counting the days until funding runs out completely.
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