On Monday night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to admonish Congress for letting the health care coverage for as many as 9 million children expire on Sept. 30. She also urged her Twitter followers to call Congress about the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as bipartisan efforts have come to a stall in the House. CHIP was first enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1997 and has remained easily one of the most popular and widely supported bipartisan bills on Capitol Hill. It's safe to say that most politicians can agree that making sure kids stay healthy is just good policy. But for the first time in CHIP's 20-year history, Congress just let its reauthorization — and thus its funding — expire.
So, what happened? In a word, Trump — or rather, the slow-motion train wreck that is his administration. Despite having a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, Congress has failed to accomplish several major goals, with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act being the most notable and drawn-out legislative battle. While trying to shove through a failed ACA repeal and now pivoting to tax reform, Congress apparently missed that whole CHIP expiration deadline, because I guess now protecting kids' health care is no longer an easy gimme for the GOP.
CHIP was originally designed to make sure that moderate to low-income families could afford health care for their children. In 2009, President Obama expanded CHIP to include an additional 4 million children, as well as pregnant mothers. But like many government programs, funding must be reauthorized every year by Congress, and for the first time in the program's history, Congress has actually let the program expire.
This doesn't mean that at midnight on Oct. 1, nine million children suddenly lost their health insurance. But what the expiration of CHIP's reauthorization does mean is that there are states who will face critical funding shortages as early as December: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, both California and Arizona will run out of CHIP funding by the end of the year. Another 32 other states will run out of funding if Congress doesn't act by March 2018.
On Sept. 12, the Senate Finance Committee came to a bipartisan agreement to fund CHIP for another five years, just barely squeaking by before CHIP's Sept. 30 funding extension deadline. Likewise, the House Energy and Commerce Committee also passed a matching bill out of committee, but along party lines. Here's where Washington in-fighting has once again reared its ugly head: A CHIP reauthorization requires passing floor votes in both the House and the Senate.
The Senate has not specified from where the $100 billion it has proposed to extend CHIP funding for the next five years will come. The House version, however, intends to take funds from Medicaid and the ACA to fund a CHIP extension, to which Democrats have cried foul. The House version to "save CHIP" is very much a "robbing Peter to pay Paul" scenario, as New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the ranking Democrat on the House committee, said in a statement Thursday, according to The Hill:
I'm concerned that the Republicans' actions in Committee will make it more difficult to come to a bipartisan agreement and will further delay reauthorization of CHIP, Community Health Centers and other important public health laws
Pallone is urging the committee come back to the negotiating table to put forth a CHIP reauthorization bill that doesn't hack away at ACA funding.
It's critical for every American to call their representative and to demand Congress to act on reauthorizing funding for CHIP. If you live in a state whose representative is on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, your calls are especially important. If you're not sure what to say, progressive advocacy group 5 Calls has a handy CHIP script to use when you call your representative. Here's hoping that Congress can get its act together to actually work on preserving care for America's youngest, rather than trying to repeal it away or let its funding run dry.
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