Wolf signs state CHIP bill, but still no federal action

Childrens Health Bill-Signing
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf shows his signature after he signed legislation reauthorizing Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Friday.

Gov. Wolf signed a bill Friday reauthorizing Pennsylvania’s participation in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The bigger worry, however, remains with Congress, which has yet to renew this largely federally funded program that provides health care for nearly 9 million low-income and special-needs children, as well as more than 370,000 pregnant women nationwide.  Pennsylvania’s CHIP program is projected to run out of money by the end of January if federal lawmakers fail to act soon.

“Congress needs to do its part and reauthorize CHIP at the federal level,” said Wolf. “Without federal funding, more than 180,000 children in Pennsylvania could be without health care in early 2018.”

CHIP, a 25-year-old program that has a long history of bipartisan support, has been stalled on the state and federal levels this year. Many health advocates say politics is to blame.

In Pennsylvania, state Senate Republicans sought to bar CHIP funding for gender affirmation surgery for transgender youth, though this procedure is rarely sought by people in the program. The Senate approved a version of the bill without that prohibition on Monday, clearing the way for Wolf’s signature.

A bill has been introduced in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Jesse Topper (R., Bedford) that would bar public funding such as CHIP and Medicaid for transgender surgeries for all ages. No action has been taken on the bill, which Topper said may still be revised.

The federal CHIP authorization law was allowed to expire Sept. 30. Depending on their reserves, most states are running out of money by early 2018.

Early this week, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) held a news conference with Garden State parents and health advocates to urge CHIP’s federal reauthorization. Currently, there are proposals being considered in Congress that would tie support for renewal of CHIP to Republican-promoted measures, including cutting back on aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

“Health care for 9 million children in this country is not – and should never be – a bargaining chip,” he said in a statement. “It’s not a concession. It’s a bipartisan policy and it deserves to be treated as such.”