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Millions of Children Could Lose Their Health Insurance At The End of This Year

CHIP, which insures children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicare, but too little to look into private options, is still in limbo.

If you haven’t heard of CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, it’s because it’s so universally liked and non-controversial that it doesn’t really get any air-time. At least not in the form of complaints. It was introduced as legislation 20 years ago in a bipartisan effort and has received unchallenged support by politicians in Washington and citizens alike. According to NBC, 75 percent of Americans would like to see CHIP renewed. 

It is, for all intents and purposes, a great program. Since its introduction, CHIP has been a factor in significantly dropping the percentage of uninsured children from 14 to around 4 percent. The program is so successful because it helps insure children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicare, but too little to look into private options. Nine million children in the US benefit from the program, 90 percent of which live in households that are 200 percent below the federal poverty line. It’s also pretty well liked because it gives states a lot of power over how they handle and administer the program — something that conservatives can get behind.

While plenty of kids who are on CHIP are happy and healthy and only need checkups, many more will lose access to life-saving chemotherapy, medicine, epipens, and basic access to health care due to issues that are no fault of their own. That’s the case for 11-year-old Roland Williams, a young boy who NBC followed who was diagnosed with lung cancer and would have died if he didn’t have access to health care through CHIP. His mother even wrote an op-ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about their battle to receive healthcare for her son.

So why did Congress let it expire at the end of September? Most political analysts suggest that Republicans were so focused on trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that CHIP expired without a fight. But more than forgetfulness, politicians on Capitol Hill decided to play politics.

When the House released its updated CHIP bill in September in pursuance of more funding, it tacked on punitive measures that sure earned the ire of Democrats, including a provision that would take cash from the ACA public health fund. It wrote in cuts for elderly care as well. That bill passed, and provided five years of funding, but the Senate’s version of the bill hasn’t been voted on yet. It’s not even on the schedule.

The bill has been reauthorized three times since it was created in 1997 without much debate. And this is the longest the bill has ever gone without funding. And while it’s not as though the minute CHIP expires, all of the money that supports it in each state disappears, it is getting down to the wire. If CHIP isn’t reauthorized by the end of this year, 11 states will run out of funding to provide health insurance to young kids. That’s because the federal government is the sole funder of the program in those states. By March of next year, a whopping 32 states in total will be out of funding.