Our View: Save child health insurance program


Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nearly 9 million children across the country are in danger of losing their health insurance unless Congress moves to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The joint federal and state program, which provides health insurance to children and pregnant women whose families have incomes to high to be eligible for Medicaid but too low to afford private health insurance, expired at the end of September.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, was established by Congress in 1997 with broad bipartisan support and has been routinely extended on a bipartisan basis over the past 20 years. Since its inception, the percentage of children without health insurance has dropped from 14 percent to 4.5 percent.

The federal government provides about 76 percent of the funding for North Carolina’s CHIP program, Health Choice for Children, which provides health insurance for more than 280,000 children, or about 88.4 percent of the eligible children in the state.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization, estimates that 11 states will run out of federal CHIP funding by the end of the year and 21 more states will run out by March 2018.

The U.S. House approved legislation to extend the program for five years in November, but it faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, where disagreements over how to fund the extension has prevented a vote on its version of the bill.

The continuing resolution approved Friday by Congress to fund government operations through Dec. 22 included no funding for CHIP, but it did include a provision directing the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to re-allocate any surplus CHIP funds to the states most in need instead of the previous policy of evenly distributing any leftover funds to each state. While welcome, that move is a weak, very temporary band-aid at best.

While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to express their unequivocal support for the program and pledge that Congress will extend it in the near future — but so far, talk has been cheap and action has been absent. Children should not pay the price for lawmakers’ inability to agree on how to pay for their health care.

Congress must set aside its ideological wrangling and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program as soon as possible.