We talk about a lot of issues in the U.S. Senate - taxes, education, ways to smartly balance the use of our natural resources and how to help everybody achieve the American Dream, to name just a few.
Each one is important and each is worthy of our attention.
But if you're not healthy - and especially if your children aren't healthy and they don't have access to comprehensive, affordable health care - those matters fade in importance. The quality of health care and our ability to use it touches all of us. And that's why we want to spend a few minutes highlighting the importance of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and why we and other Democrats in the Senate are locking arms tightly to make sure CHIP is here to stay.
Simply put, CHIP is a success and millions of kids are healthier because of it. CHIP is a federal-state partnership created in 1997 that provides comprehensive and affordable care to 10 million kids who in most cases are in families that earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid but too little to be able to afford private health insurance.
Every state has taken advantage of CHIP and that's one reason the uninsured rate for children has dropped dramatically since CHIP's enactment - from 14 percent in 1997 to a record low of 7 percent in 2012.
The program has always enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and last year, nearly 40 governors responded to a joint request by the Senate Finance Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee for ground-level feedback about CHIP. Support for the program was universal with Democratic and Republican governors alike praising the services CHIP provides and how it is run and managed.
But here's the catch: Funding for CHIP runs out on Sept. 30 unless Congress acts. We can't let that happen. That's the reason we introduced legislation on Feb. 12 that would guarantee funding for CHIP through 2019. We've named the bill the "Protecting & Retaining Our Children's Health Insurance Program (PRO-CHIP) Act of 2015."
It's a good bill for a great program and there isn't time to waste. Governors have told us in no uncertain terms that they need Congress to act now because now is when most states are finalizing their budgets for the year. Congress needs to act within the next few months so both states and millions of people who depend on CHIP have certainty.
The bill we've introduced is a path of least resistance and one that senators from both parties can support. It essentially extends the current program - as is - through 2019. This is the same program that nine Republican senators and 40 Republican House members supported in 2009, the last time CHIP was considered by Congress. More recently, governors as diverse as Gary Herbert, a Republican from Utah and Deval Patrick, a Democrat from Massachusetts wrote to Congress last year expressing support for CHIP and urging Congress to extend it as soon as possible. And last month, former Sen. Bill Frist - a Republican, former Senate Majority Leader and a physician - tweeted this: "I fought for Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997, and Congress must extend CHIP this year."
The stakes are high. With CHIP's strong performance over the years and its bipartisan history there is no reason for delay and for doing what's necessary to ensure that 10 million kids continue receiving the comprehensive, affordable care they need.
Wyden is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. Senators Brown, Stabenow and Casey are members of the Senate Finance Committee.