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Congress is holding CHIP and children hostage

Marian Wright Edelman | 10/19/2017, 7:29 p.m.
Dr. Lanre Falusi knows firsthand the anxiety families face when the future of their child’s health insurance is in jeopardy.
Marian Wright Edelman

Dr. Lanre Falusi knows firsthand the anxiety families face when the future of their child’s health insurance is in jeopardy. A pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Dr. Falusi recently had a routine visit from a seven-year-old patient with asthma. For the last few months this little girl has been fairly stable thanks to her daily controller and rescue medication covered through D.C.’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But she often has tough winters and her mother was trying to plan ahead having heard CHIP’s future funding was uncertain. “That was her question: ‘If I don’t know if she’s going to have insurance, can I get a prescription for extra medication and save it just in case?’ . . . She was in crisis planning mode for her daughter’s health and she wanted to stockpile the medication. It was really disconcerting to me that that’s what we’re asking parents to start doing. States are dealing with an incredible amount of uncertainty about their funding – and maybe they are used to doing that – but the fact that we’re asking families now to do that around their children’s health is inappropriate and unconscionable to me.”

States and families across the country are in this crisis mode because Congress let the deadline to extend funding for CHIP pass at midnight on September 30th leaving nine million children like Dr. Falusi’s young patient uncertain about their health coverage. For months Congress has been busy debating whether or not to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and destroy Medicaid as we know it. While the death of the Graham-Cassidy health repeal bill in late September was a major win for 37 million children who rely on Medicaid for their health coverage, in the midst of that major fight, funding for CHIP was left by the wayside.

Earlier this week it appeared Congress was coming together and might move forward a strong, long-term extension of CHIP with bipartisan support. On Wednesday the Senate Finance Committee quickly passed its Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act (S.1827) with the support of all but one member of the Committee, but the momentum for CHIP stalled in the House Energy and Commerce Committee later that evening. While Energy and Commerce approved the HEALTHY KIDS Act (H.R. 3921), a bill with nearly identical CHIP provisions to those in the KIDS Act, it lost the support of all its Committee Democrats because of their serious concerns about bad proposals used to pay for CHIP and other pieces of the bill, especially given that many Republicans don’t seem concerned about how to pay for tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations in their “Big Six” tax cut plan. So politics jeopardizes children’s health again.

We’re so close to the finish line. There is bipartisan support for CHIP. Congress is following regular order. If Senate and House members, Republicans and Democrats alike, agree on what we need to do for children’s health, let’s do it now and for the children’s sake forget the need for political wrangling.