On September 30th, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will be up for renewal in Congress, according to NPR. This “popular federal state-program” provides health insurance for more than 9 million children of families who may otherwise be unable to afford health care.
Some health experts fear that CHIP’s deadline will fall by the wayside while Congress deals with urgent matters in providing relief for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In addition, they also fear that fierce division within Congress and budget-related government shutdowns could push CHIP down the priority list. As a result, states would be left with no choice but to start scaling down the reach of CHIP, leaving many children without health insurance at a point in their lives when regular healthcare is crucial.
Among the multiple reasons for the importance of CHIP, one that stands out is the population of children it affects the most. The children who currently benefit from this program come from families who are in lower- or middle-income brackets but do not qualify for Medicaid. As a result, they may be forced to pay more medical bills out of pocket, increasing health and economic insecurities among this population.
Since its adoption in 1997, CHIP has enjoyed bipartisan support, and has been a big factor in the reduction of uninsured children from 13.9 percent in 1997 to 4.5 percent in 2015. Its impact is universally acknowledged, but up for immediate debate are the enhancements the 2010 Affordable Care Act added to CHIP. The ACA increased federal spending for CHIP by 23 percentage points, but “forbid states to restrict eligibility rules.” However, like the ACA as a whole, these enhancements may be changed in the near future.
The need to renew and secure CHIP’s future is urgent. Without congressional action, several states could run out of CHIP funding as soon as next year. While CHIP could be reauthorized “with no strings attached,” its uncertainty means that parents, health care providers, and community members should stay aware of its status. This is crucial if we believe, as we do here at CHIL, that the health of children is a bipartisan, long-term priority.