Congress Must Restore Funding For CHIP Before It’s Too Late

It has been one of the most popular federal programs over the past two decades, but Congress failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before its authorization ran out Sept. 30. Now it’s unclear whether legislation to extend the program will pass before states, such as Florida, run out of money to keep the crucial program afloat.

It appears that children’s health is now a political pawn in Washington, D.C.

Enrollees in the state’s CHIP program — known in Florida as KidCare — are required to pay low monthly premiums. Nevertheless, KidCare is reliant on federal funding, which accounts for the bulk of its overall spending. If Congress doesn’t act soon to renew CHIP funding, Florida’s CHIP program will be forced to make some painful — and unpopular — choices. These could include shutting down the program until funding is restored and sending coverage notices to parents as early as mid-January.

This will harm the approximately 220,000 Florida children who get health insurance through CHIP programs, including more than 11,000 on the Children’s Medical Services program, which covers kids with special healthcare needs.

This problem is not unique to Florida. States across the country will also be running out of funding and left with the same hard decisions.

According to the federal government’s benefits resource website, CHIP provides health coverage to nearly eight million children and families nationally with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford private coverage. Benefits covered through CHIP include routine check-ups, immunizations, doctor visits, prescriptions, dental and vision care, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, laboratory and X-ray services, and emergency services — in other words, the basic healthcare needs of children up to age 18 who have no other means of getting access to health insurance.

CHIP usually has near-unanimous bipartisan support, but has been neglected the last quarter of 2017 because of the focus of congressional leaders on, first, the failed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and more recently, the just-passed tax overhaul plan. As a result, we have seen our leaders ignore the needs of children. In this case, they have taken actions that put children’s healthcare at risk.

Renewing the CHIP funding is more crucial now that the GOP tax plan has passed with a measure that eliminates the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will cause 13 million fewer Americans to be covered by 2027 because they will opt not to get health insurance. Additionally, Americans could see a 10 percent spike in annual premiums. These two factors will likely lead to more children than ever in need of the CHIP program. And yet, CHIP funding remains in limbo.

Taking care of our children’s healthcare is supposed to be about people, not politics. Sadly, we’re not so sure this is the case anymore, even if the CHIP issue is resolved before it’s too late. We hope Congress gets its act together and will allow citizens across the nation, particularly children, to have the medical certainty they deserve and need.