So intent were the Republicans in Congress on their latest gasping effort to gut Obamacare that they have threatened the health care of some 9 million children across the U.S., including almost 342,000 kids in Florida.
While all eyes were on the farcical Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the ever-dysfunctional Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to expire. This happened on Saturday (Sept. 30). Unless Congress quickly plays catch-up, states are projected to run out of program funding over the next 12 months. Florida’s funding is foreseen to expire by sometime in January.
CHIP is a noncontroversial program that is routinely renewed. A bipartisan initiative, it was originally co-sponsored, in 1997, by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. The goal: Allow children from low-income families who live above the Medicaid threshold to obtain low-cost health insurance.
Children have no control over their financial circumstances, of course, so they’re especially vulnerable to the high price of health care — as well as to the need for checkups, immunizations, prescriptions and dental and vision care. All these have been covered under CHIP, as well as hospital care, lab work, x-rays and emergency services.
It’s funded primarily through federal funds that states match, $9.7 billion federal and $4 billion state funds in 2015. Florida is one of the states where parents are required to pay monthly premiums of $15 or $20 based on family income.
Just about everybody has been happy with this program for 20 years. But when you have a Congress that’s far more interested in grandstanding than governing, you get a fiasco like this.
All through September, almost every bit of energy on Capitol Hill was spent on the zombie-like moves by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., to bring repeal-and-replace back from the crypt where Sen. John McCain’s no vote had seemed to consign it in July. But this latest bill was even worse than the GOP’s previous versions and even Graham admitted that Republicans didn’t know what they were doing.
Democrats were so focused on defeating Graham-Cassidy that they weren’t paying much attention to the looming expiration of CHIP funding, either.
Hatch and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., did announce in September a plan for extending CHIP money for another five years and boosting funding over time. But that quickly got drowned out by all the drama over Graham-Cassidy.
A Senate and a House committee were scheduled to discuss bills today to continue CHIP funding. They’d better work fast. Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina are projected to run out of funding by December. Funds for Florida’s 342,000 low-income children, infants and pregnant women would dry up soon after that.
Who is being affected? Dorothy R. .Novick, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recently wrote this in the Washington Post:
Every day I see patients in my practice who stand to lose their health care if Congress does not act to extend CHIP funding. Consider my patient who grew up in foster care, put herself through college and now earns a living as a freelance clothing designer. She is now a mother herself, and I treat her children. Her 1-year-old son has asthma and her 3-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. They are able to follow up with me every three months and keep a ready supply of lifesaving medications because they qualify for CHIP.
Or consider the dad with a hearing impairment whose wife passed away two years ago. He supports his teenage daughters by working as a line cook during the day and a parking attendant at night. He sends the girls to a parochial school. He lost their Medicaid when he was given extra hours at his restaurant last year. But I still see them because they qualify for CHIP.
Congress, get to work.