No one has a bad word to say about the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), an initiative that insures children from low- and moderate-income families. But after 10 years of bipartisan support, Congress let funding for the program expire on September 30, leaving 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women hoping their states can scrape together the cash to keep CHIP going.
CHIP did not rise above the debate about the Affordable Care Act to get the attention it needed for passage. CHIP renewal has been packaged together with various more controversial measures and so has not been able to advance. All of this speaks volumes about the way that we address children in economic hardship.
CHIP is for families who do not qualify for Medicaid. Typically one or more parent is working, but their jobs do not provide affordable health insurance. In most cases, families do pay premiums for this care, though less than they would in the marketplace. CHIP ensures that kids can go to the doctor for wellness visits, vaccinations and the preventive care that we know pays off in better health and lower costs.
A number of states say that they can continue to fund CHIP into 2018, but not all. Oregon says that its funding will only cover October. Utah has announced it will end CHIP at the close of the year unless more federal funds materialize.
Congress is playing fast and loose with the health care of American children because of other battles raging on the Hill. It is as if two parents refused on put a pause button on an argument to take a child to the doctor. CHIP played a major role in cutting the percentage of uninsured children from nearly 14 percent in 1997 to 4.5 percent in 2015. Is that a gain we are really willing to walk back?
I am not a politician and I’m unwilling to line up with one party or another on this one. I simply ask: Can’t we get a bill that simply continues CHIP without mixing in either parties’ other agendas? Isn’t the health care of 9 million children worth its own piece of legislation?
The contrast between our emotional response to children and what we are actually willing to do for them is mindboggling. Walk into a crowded room with a baby and you’ll be surrounded by admiring strangers. But as a nation, we are miserly when it comes to action that will protect that child’s future.
In the future, overall federal spending is projected to increase substantially, but virtually none of the additional funds will be directed toward children. Thus, the shares of the economy and of the federal budget devoted to children are scheduled to decline. Almost all the projected growth in federal spending is committed to retirement and health spending on adults, and to interest on the debt. As federal spending continues to outpace revenues, interest payments continue to rise; payments on the debt will soon outstrip federal spending on children, underlining the extent to which the federal budget is being driven by past policy decisions rather than by current assessments of how best to invest in the future. Recent trends in state and local spending on children also reflect a declining focus on children, particularly in education.
In other words: We will soon be paying more on the interest on the debt that we plan to stick our kids with than on programs that benefit those children today.
We are one of the few industrialized countries that do not provide universal access to early childhood education. We spend more than any other country in the world on health care for all age groups – but with poorer outcomes. Our children would be healthier if one in six households with children did not experience food insecurity and if things like clean water and basic shelter were seen as human rights.
The United States of America owes its children an apology. Congress can start by putting aside its differences and reauthorizing CHIP now.