Skip to content

Stepping Up for Children’s Health Care | Commentary

Electoral politics will soon take over in Washington. Before the midterm elections completely dominate news cycles and lawmakers’ time, Congress should ensure full funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, without which millions of children risk losing vital health coverage.

Protecting the dignity and health of vulnerable children must be our first priority, not an afterthought that gets lost in legislative gridlock and election-year politics. As a wealthy nation, the very least we can do is make certain that no child is denied a doctor’s visit or critical medication because of their socio-economic status. No matter how much of a standstill there is on Capitol Hill, we must be able to agree that caring for our children is an urgent and welcome priority.

CHIP is authorized through 2019 but requires additional funding to continue providing needed coverage and care beyond Oct. 1, 2015, when the program’s current funding stream is set to expire. While little in Washington is easy these days, this should not be a heavy lift. Since its inception, CHIP has garnered widespread support from both parties and from an overwhelming majority of the nation’s governors and state legislatures. Every study of the program has demonstrated that it has done what Congress envisioned — and has done it well.

Nearly 90 percent of children enrolled in the CHIP program in 2013 were in families with annual income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($39,060 for a family of three). If CHIP funding is not renewed, at least 500,000 children—and as many as 2 million—could become uninsured because employer-sponsored family coverage is unaffordable.

On behalf of the Catholic Health Association and the communities we serve, I urge Congress to prevent this outcome by extending funding this year.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., an architect of CHIP, has capably and passionately defended and improved the program that was created by a bipartisan group of senators in 1997. The time has arrived once again to fortify this lifeline and ensure that it continues to serve the people Sen. Rockefeller and others have worked so hard to protect. Extending funding for this program now is also a fitting tribute to the senator as he leaves the Senate.

The Affordable Care Act has expanded insurance coverage to millions of people and has begun to transform our health care system into one that meets the needs of all. This is amazing progress that we must celebrate and continue to advance. At the same time, millions of children and families depend on the assistance provided by CHIP. We cannot turn our backs on them because of an election year and a tight congressional calendar.

The moral measure of a nation is best taken in how it treats the most vulnerable people, including children in low-income families, and CHIP has been a lifeline to these families.

We encourage Congress to act before the end of the current session, but also understand a funding renewal may not be approved until the lame-duck session that follows the elections. Whether it happens now or near the end of the year, CHIP is the last program that should be left hanging.

Children in this great nation should have the assurance of continuity and not left wondering if their health coverage may be allowed to fall through the cracks.

Sr. Carol Keehan is president and CEO of Catholic Health Association.