CHIP, a divided congress, and why millions of children may soon be without health insurance


CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, is a federal health insurance program available to kids under 19 years of age, not eligible for Medicaid, and who come from families with low to medium income.  Historically it’s been a fantastic, bipartisan program that increases access to quality health insurance for kids.  More recently, the program has become a partisan pawn with controversy, primarily, over funding.

CHIP has served millions of children, nationwide, since its development in 1997.  Overall, CHIP has been an incredible success.  Most notably, the program has led to a national reduction of racial/ethnic disparities in healthcare access – and not just access to primary care.  CHIP is comprehensive.  Coverage includes regular check-ups, immunizations, emergency health services, hospitalizations, dental care, vision services, and more.  Dependant on one’s particular state, all services provided under CHIP are either free, or substantially subsidized with the plan.

The federal reauthorization deadline for CHIP expired in September.  Unfortunately, instead of reauthorization, Congress let partisan differences (and rooted disagreements about the Affordable Care Act, at large) stand in the way of forward movement.  The deadline came and went, despite grassroots efforts by CHIP beneficiaries, health care providers, and other concerned citizens pleading for government action.  Many of us flooded the phone lines and offices of our federal lawmakers; unfortunately, it was to no avail.  Although general consensus is that CHIP will, eventually, be reauthorized, this may not occur before individual states run out of program funding and children lose their insurance coverage.

A couple weeks ago Colorado became the first state to notify families of children who receive CHIP coverage that they could lose their insurance.  Colorado has since been scrambling to modify their enrollment systems and train staff to counsel desperate families.  Imagine receiving a letter that says, “Hello, we’d like to inform you that your child *may* lose their health insurance, but we’re not sure…”  At a minimum, the notice would be confusing.  For families of children with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or seizure disorders, conditions that are dependant on lifesaving prescription medication and health monitoring, the notification would be downright alarming.

In Massachusetts, my home state, there are 172K children covered by CHIP under the umbrella of MassHealth.  Funding for CHIP, in Massachusetts, is predicted to run out by the end of January.  If CHIP is not reauthorized, most MA enrollees will likely be eligible to convert to Medicaid and remain in MassHealth, however, this comes at a cost.  Medicaid has a much lower federal match rate in our state.  This added cost could, and would, devastate MA budget plans.  The transition would also mean higher out-of-pocket costs for families.

Lawmakers surmise that CHIP funding will likely come through by the end of the year as part of a package deal with other spending bills.  Unfortunately, we are simply running out of legislative days to make this happen.  If you’re inspired to take action, now is the time.  As constituents, we can put the pressure on Capitol Hill by calling congressional staffers and passing along our concerns.  Even better, if your family is dependant on CHIP coverage, I’d urge you to share your story with government officials.

Not sure what to say or who to call?  Click here for a script and all the how-tos.  It’s time for our lawmakers to do the right thing – to devise a bipartisan spending plan, fund CHIP, and to #keepkidscovered.  Let’s put the pressure Congress on before it’s too late.

About sarahkiser

Pediatric nurse practitioner, writer, mother of two.

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