Unless Congress acts soon, nearly 18,000 children in Washington state will lose health coverage because Congress still hasn’t reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP.
CHIP has been around since 1997. At the time, Congress was deeply divided and had just killed a proposal for universal health care that would have covered everyone.
CHIP, according to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was something both sides of the aisle could get behind. It was sponsored by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.
“The concept was at least we ought to be able to agree that we want healthy children and that children shouldn’t be excluded from access to health care just because their parents couldn’t afford it,” Cantwell said.
After former President Barack Obama's health care law was passed, CHIP funds have continued to be used to fill in gaps for people not covered under other programs.
Mary Wood, with Washington's Health Care Authority, says CHIP funds pay for kids whose parents are just enough over the poverty line that they don’t qualify for Medicaid, primarily the working poor.
She says children covered under CHIP receive vision, dental, mental health and preventative care, which is critical for good health.
“And critical for kids' success in school and in life, and to us it’s a cornerstone for the success of kids,” Wood said.
Even though CHIP continues to have broad bipartisan support, Congress missed its deadline to reauthorize it by Sept. 30 and still hasn’t taken action.
“Children’s health insurance shouldn’t be political. And the fact that this program has expired is very troubling. What’s weighed it down is health care writ large,” Cantwell said.
In other words, all of the focus has been on "Obamacare" or efforts to stabilize the health insurance markets. Cantwell says lawmakers should be able to both work to stabilize insurance markets and act on CHIP.
The state has gotten some emergency funds as a sort of stopgap measure. It received $10.3 million in October. But at this point, the money won’t last much past the end of the year.
The state says it hasn't gotten a lot of calls from worried families. But that may be because they are unaware of the threat. The CHIP program is branded here as “Apple Health for Kids.” On the state website, there is no mention of CHIP as a source of funds.
Wood says she's also concerned about unnecessarily panicking families and is holding out hope Congress will act soon.
Wood does say the state has a contingency plan in place so that anyone losing coverage will receive a 60 day notice.