OPED: Act now to preserve health care for kids

Robert J. Woods
United Way of York County

Funding for The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired on Sept. 30 due to the failure of Congress to reauthorize funding for the program. CHIP provides essential health services to children living in lower income working families that are not eligible for Medicaid.  In Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District, covering York County and surrounding communities, 30 percent of children receive healthcare services from CHIP or Medicaid.  We are calling on Congressman Scott Perry and Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Bob Casey to do the right thing and support Senate Bill 1837 that extends CHIP funding for 5 more years with no additional eligibility requirements or barriers to comprehensive coverage for children.

CHIP was enacted with broad bipartisan support in 1997 to provide funding to states to reduce the numbers of uninsured children in the United States. CHIP helps low-income children from working families who do not have access to employer-based coverage, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, to get health insurance. Before its enactment, over 23 percent of low income children nationally were uninsured. The number has dropped to 5 percent and, in the 4th Congressional District, only 3 percent of children remain uninsured.

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CHIP provides healthcare coverage that is necessary for a child’s early development. Access to quality, pediatric-centered, healthcare is critical for brain development as well as social and emotional well-being.  Health plans offered through CHIP are specifically designed for children’s unique developmental needs by providing regular wellness visits, developmental screenings, and immunizations.  Decades of data tells us that access to early quality healthcare has predictive short and long term educational outcomes for a child’s success in school.

CHIP also supports the financial stability of working families. It is often more affordable for working families in both premiums and out-of-pocket costs than most employer-sponsored or marketplace plans. Together, more than 40 percent of children in the United States depend on Medicaid and CHIP for their healthcare coverage. In Pennsylvania, 79 percent of CHIP children live in or near poverty, 39 percent are newborns, 40 percent are infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and 45 percent have disabilities or other special health care needs such as juvenile diabetes, asthma, or congenital heart conditions.

United Way of York County

The Senate Finance Committee has a bipartisan plan and we support it! However, without action from Congress, funding for this critical program will run out in Pennsylvania and 10 other states by the end of December or early next year, putting more than 176,000 children in Pennsylvania at risk of losing healthcare coverage. There is no such thing as “safely delaying” action on CHIP; the consequences have already started.  CHIP directors already are preparing cancellation letters and freezing enrollments as early as November 1st. Working families are growing anxious that the coverage their children depend on will disappear. Please contact Perry, Casey and Toomey and urge them to support Senate Bill 1837.

— Robert J. Woods is executive director of United Way of York County.