Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would become permanent under bipartisan bill
A bipartisan team of lawmakers have introduced a bill to make the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) permanent, a move overwhelmingly supported by pediatricians, advocates, parents, and the American public.
The Comprehensive Access to Robust Insurance Now Guaranteed (CARING) for Kids Act (H.R.6151), introduced Monday by Reps. Abby Finkenauer (D-IA) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL), would remove the recurring uncertainty around the federal health insurance program that covers 10 million of our nation’s children. CHIP is the only federal health insurance program subject to expiration, funding cliffs, offsets, and re-authorization votes.
“CHIP is a bipartisan success story that has, since its inception more than two decades ago, dramatically cut the uninsured rate for children,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children. “Paradoxically, it is also the only federal health insurance program that is regularly used as a bargaining chip on Capitol Hill. During these times more than ever, children and their families must be able to trust that their health care coverage will be there for them and will be affordable, accessible and meet their needs. We are thrilled that Representatives Finkenauer and Buchanan have tackled this long-standing issue and we fully support this bipartisan bill to protect the health coverage of children by making CHIP permanent.”
A bipartisan coalition in Congress created CHIP in 1997 to address a national health care crisis in which 15% of our nation’s children lacked coverage. The program targets families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford other health insurance options. By guaranteeing pediatric-focused care to millions of children, CHIP played a critical role in ensuring that 95% of children in America were insured by 2016.
Despite its success, CHIP remains temporary and requires an increasingly elusive act of Congress every few years simply to keep it going. Lawmakers have missed reauthorization and funding deadlines over its 23-year history, most recently in 2016 and 2017, and have even threatened to eliminate the program entirely. The repeated uncertainty has harmed children by threatening to interrupt protocols and on-going treatment plans and creating toxic stress for families trying to keep their kids healthy. Threats to CHIP also can force state administrators to suspend program outreach, enrollment, and other activities in order to plan for its possible demise.
Congress most recently pushed CHIP reauthorization to the brink in 2017, when it took lawmakers 132 days — more than four months — to reach a final agreement. First Focus Campaign for Children was instrumental in renewal efforts, bringing to Washington eight families whose children relied on CHIP so they could talk with lawmakers. First Focus also ran national newspaper ads, created online campaigns, educated members of Congress on the need for CHIP and advocated for its extension.
The uncertainty and lengthy delay of the 2017 reauthorization fight led to the first increase in the percentage of uninsured children in two decades. Trump Administration regulatory policies to push children off of health insurance since then have amplified this decline, with the percentage of uninsured children rising to 5.5 percent in 2018.
No other federal health insurance program – not Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, TRICARE or FEHBP – is subject to frequent expirations, funding cliffs, the need for offsets, or the potential to be used as a bargaining chip.
CHIP remains a popular, cost-effective, public-private partnership. A 2017 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 88% of American voters consider CHIP reauthorization an important priority for the president and Congress.
The Finkenauer-Buchanan bill would ensure the long-term future of CHIP, finally answering the repeated call from pediatricians, public health officials, parents and members of Congress themselves to guarantee the health and well-being of our nation’s children.
The CARING for Kids Act would:
- Protect the health coverage of 10 million children;
- Give CHIP equal status with other federal health insurance programs;
- Protect CHIP from changes to or elimination of the Affordable Care Act that could make CHIP extension more difficult in the future;
- Allow health experts and advocates to shift their focus to important problems facing children, such as infant mortality, mental health, substance abuse, diabetes, asthma, and oral health; and,
- Let states pursue innovation and improvements to CHIP rather than contingency plans for its elimination.