LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Congress fails to protect children with not funding CHIP

To most families, protecting the health and well-being of their children is a top priority. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Congress right now.

Last month, lawmakers in the House and Senate missed an important deadline to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) when Republicans in the Senate decided to focus on yet another failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) instead of bipartisan efforts to reauthorize CHIP by the Sept. 30 deadline.

In so doing, these lawmakers put in jeopardy healthcare for the nearly 9 million children dependent upon CHIP, including 166,637 in Delaware. Thanks to Medicaid and CHIP, there are more insured children now than ever before in our country’s history: more than 95 percent of kids have coverage today. But political bickering in Congress could wipe out that progress and leave behind children like John Rogers (alias because of stigma associated with social safety nets) who is being raised by his grandparent, and is reliant on CHIP.

According to John’s grandmother, who is also his legal guardian, John receives medical and dental care through the CHIP program. Should the program run out of money, he would be without much needed medical care. His regular living needs are provided for by his grandparent but if he is not be able to receive CHIP coverage, his Grandma would have struggle greatly if forced provide medical and dental care from her limited retirement income; making providing basic needs such as food and shelter much more difficult.

CHIP was created with bipartisan support in 1997 to provide comprehensive, affordable coverage for children in low and modest income families who otherwise would not be able to afford coverage or specific services that kids need. The program works side by side with Medicaid. Like Medicaid, CHIP is particularly important for families with special needs children, for children in rural communities and for children of color.

In fact, Medicaid and CHIP cover half of all kids with special healthcare needs and half of children living in rural areas. CHIP also covers children who face the greatest racial and ethnic disparities and barriers in healthcare: nearly two-thirds of children covered by CHIP and Medicaid are African American or Latino. In Delaware, 33 percent of CHIP enrollees and kids covered by Medicaid are African American or Latino.

CHIP, like Medicaid, is critical piece of our country’s healthcare infrastructure and an essential lifeline for our most vulnerable citizens: children. Without reauthorization, a number of states will run out of CHIP funding by December, possibly causing a lapse in coverage for thousands of children. Many more states will deplete their funds by March.

That means that a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize funding for the program should be an immediate priority for lawmakers in Congress and should absolutely take precedence over partisan sparring or debates about repeal proposals that both lawmakers and the public have rejected time and time again.

Although work on CHIP reauthorization has resumed in the House and in the Senate, rather than a clean reauthorization bill, Republicans in the House have proposed raising Medicare costs for some seniors and dipping into the ACA’s prevention fund to pay for the reauthorization, potentially derailing the chances for a bipartisan agreement anytime soon.

It’s up to our congressional senators to take a stand for our state’s children. Our kids shouldn’t have to wait for politics as usual when it comes to their healthcare. Our senators should step up and show some leadership by urging lawmakers to get to a clean, bipartisan agreement on CHIP funding, not treat CHIP reauthorization as just another game of political football.

Kerri Harris

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