Children's health is being sacrificed on the altar of politics | Editorial

Thursday, Dec. 7, Opinion Page photo-06122017-0001
Making sure children have health insurance doesn’t seem to be a priority for Congress or President Trump.

Pennsylvania should be proud to have originated the idea behind the nation’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, which today provides coverage to 9 million low-income children and pregnant women. But like so many other good ideas and programs, CHIP is drowning in the fetid river of Washington politics.

State Rep. Allen Kukovich (D., Westmoreland) in the 1980s came up with the idea of a health insurance program for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. But years passed before he and State Sen. Allyson Schwartz (D., Phila.) were successful in passing legislation to create Pennsylvania’s CHIP, which was signed into law by Gov. Robert P. Casey in 1992.

Pennsylvania CHIP celebrated its 25th birthday on Dec. 2. But now CHIP here and in other states is on the verge of death because the national program created in 1997 to provide matching funds hasn’t been reauthorized by Congress. Several states’ CHIP programs will run out of money within weeks unless Congress acts, and most will be broke by March.

Teresa Miller, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, says if Congress doesn’t fund CHIP the state will run out of money in February to cover 176,918 children and teens, including 24,093 in Philadelphia. “Studies have shown that children who do not have health insurance are at a greater risk for disease, reccurring illnesses, and poor performance in school,” she said.

No one in Congress is debating the merits of CHIP, which costs $15 billion a year. Instead, they’re hung up on a familiar whipping boy – Obamacare.

Republicans support legislation that would reauthorize CHIP for another five years, but it also would gradually phase out an increase in match money available for state CHIP programs, which was passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, and shorten the grace period Obamacare enrollees have to pay late premiums before losing their insurance.

CHIP’s authorization ended in September. But the issue seems to be on the backburner for Congress, which has been focused on tax reform and reaching a budget agreement to avoid another government shutdown. A short-term agreement reached late Thursday will expire before the end of December.

Even if Democrats and Republicans agree to a short-term spending plan, President Trump might not go along. After all, this is the president who said “a good shutdown” could be helpful in getting his agenda passed, including building that wall that was supposed to be charged to Mexico.

That’s politics. But CHIP’s agenda isn’t political.

CHIP and the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid have helped Pennsylvania reduce its uninsured rate for children by nearly 20 percent in five years. Still, nearly 140,000 children in the state aren’t insured. Many won’t be unless Congress funds CHIP. Contact your representatives and senators and tell them to reauthorize CHIP. Now.