June 22, 2018
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Don’t play Scrooge, Congress. Fund children’s health.

Bigstock | BDN
Bigstock | BDN
Without action from Congress, 9 million children are at risk of losing their health care coverage.

Updated:

Two months ago, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch applauded a Senate committee for passing a plan to continue funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which he helped create in 1997. Last week, as his GOP colleagues pushed forward with a hastily crafted plan to slash taxes, mostly for corporations and the wealthy, Hatch said “the reason CHIP’s having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore.”

Expect to hear more excuses like Hatch’s when it comes to funding for social services. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that Congress must reduce spending on health care and anti-poverty programs because of the national debt.

Let that sink in. The United States has money to reduce tax payments, which government analysts say will increase the deficit by about $1.5 trillion, but it doesn’t have money to make sure children have access to health care. Many Republicans claim the tax cuts will spur investment and boost the economy, and, therefore, pay for themselves. This notion is debunked by economists.

The Senate tax bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a move the Congressional Budget Office found would raise premiums and leave 13 million additional Americans without health insurance by 2027. At the behest of Sen. Susan Collins, the Senate will consider proposals that could lessen the impact of the mandate’s repeal, but they would not eliminate the negative consequences.

Without fixes to the tax bill and without action on CHIP, millions of children and their parents could lose their health coverage.

This is a sad statement about Republican priorities.

Funding for CHIP ran out on Sept. 30, although a short-term spending resolution passed by Congress Thursday includes some funds for states where CHIP funding is running out. Some states are warning participants that their ability to take their children to medical appointments may soon be in jeopardy. Maine is expected to have enough funding to keep the program going until June.

This is unnecessary and Congress should make long-term funding for CHIP a priority before they adjourn for the year.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides low-cost insurance to 9 million children, including 18,000 in Maine. The program aims to fill the gap between Medicaid and private, employer-based insurance. It covers children from low-income families that don’t qualify for Medicaid and would not have insurance coverage otherwise. In Maine and many other states states, it also covers pregnant women.

The program, which covers routine check-ups, dental care, vaccinations and other medical care, is largely federally funded. Ninety-seven percent of Maine’s CHIP funding comes from the federal government.

In Maine, CHIP is credited with decreasing the number of children not covered by health insurance to virtually zero, a major milestone. Nationally, it has reduced the percentage of children without health insurance from 14 percent in 1997 to 4.5 percent in 2015.

There are bills pending in the U.S. House and Senate to reauthorize CHIP for the next five years. Both bills would slowly reduce funding from its current level.

The CHIP program has had broad support. All four members of Maine’s delegation — two Republicans, a Democrat and an independent — voted for the last reauthorization two years ago.

The biggest hurdle is finding a way to pay for the bills, which carry a $6 billion price tag in the House and $8 billion in the Senate. Holding up funding for children’s health while searching for an offset would be especially cruel as Republican lawmakers recently passed bills that reduce tax collections, thereby reducing federal revenues, with offsets that are “wishful thinking.”

Funding CHIP must be on the top of the priority list before lawmakers leave Washington for the holiday recess, they need to reauthorize and fund CHIP.

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