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Congress: Act on CHIP

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 9/18/2017, 11:05 a.m.
“In this dark day of discontent So many feel despair As poverty and dissidence Cause sadness everywhere.”

Children’s Defense Fund

“In this dark day of discontent

So many feel despair

As poverty and dissidence

Cause sadness everywhere.”

On May 11, 1997, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, began his remarks at a Children’s Defense Fund conference with the lyrics above from Freedom’s Light, a song written by Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as the two together announced historic legislation that ultimately led to the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has brought light, hope and health care to nearly 9 million low-income children in the form of affordable health insurance.

Thanks to their tireless bipartisan work over many months, Senators Kennedy and Hatch got CHIP across the finish line, and it was signed into law by President Clinton on August 5, 1997. I described it then and now as one of the biggest advances for children in decades. It was another historical moment when politics were divisive and broader efforts at health reform had failed – but members of Congress put children first and moved forward.

It was CHIP’s bipartisan beginning that set it on the path to success. For 20 years CHIP has been there, giving working families the security of knowing their children had access to high-quality, child-appropriate health coverage they could afford. CHIP has helped reduce the number of uninsured children by half, improved health outcomes and access to care for children and helped reduce school absenteeism and improve children’s readiness to learn. Today, CHIP is a lifeline for 8.9 million children living in families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private coverage. They are children like Brandon, a Houston 6-year-old who needed CHIP to help cover his treatments for asthma and high blood pressure after his father lost his job; or the Philadelphia family who relied on CHIP for their three young children to see providers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Health System and for routine needs like visits to a mobile dental van; and others whose stories we’ve shared over the years. Together, CHIP and Medicaid form the foundation of our nation’s health care system for children.

Now, 20 years after CHIP put an entire generation of children on the path to a healthy adulthood, we stand at another pivotal moment: Unless Congress takes action, funding for this essential, popular, highly successful program will end after Sept. 30, 2017. Without this funding, millions of children could lose health coverage or pay more for less comprehensive coverage, leaving these children significantly worse off than they are today.

Senator Hatch is once again leading the bipartisan charge to extend CHIP funding, this time partnering with Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon,. They convened a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Sept. 7 to discuss CHIP’s future and lay the groundwork for its urgent extension millions of children need. With CHIP funding possibly ending by the end of this month, states face critical decisions about the future of their programs. If funding is not forthcoming quickly, states will have to take actions that will create chaos in program administration and confusion for families trying to access coverage for their children, including establishing waiting lists and sending out disenrollment notices. Congress must act now to avoid harmful disruption to children’s health and well-being.