EDITORIAL: Congress lets the CHIP fall

York Dispatch

Apparently if Congress can't take away health insurance from millions of adults, they'll do the next best thing and take it away from their children.

On Saturday, Sept. 30, Congress quietly allowed the funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program to expire.

CHIP helps low- and moderate-income parents of 9 million children ensure that their kids have regular checkups, vaccinations, doctor visits when they're sick — and many other services.

These are parents who have jobs that pay enough that their families are not eligible for medical assistance from the state, but they don't make enough to pay for health insurance for their children.

There are three tiers for CHIP coverage in Pennsylvania: free for households where the income is less than 208 percent of the federal poverty level, low cost if household income is less than 314 percent of the poverty level, and full cost for families above that income level.

In Pennsylvania, CHIP helps parents of more than 176,000 children pay for their health coverage. In York County, 7,116 children were covered in September. 

Federal funds pay for most of the CHIP coverage in states. Without those federal funds, Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina and the District of Columbia will run out of CHIP funds by the end of 2017, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

Without more funds, Pennsylvania and 26 other states will be out of money for CHIP by March, and every state will be out of funding for the program by September 2018.

Pennsylvania should have received $637.6 million in fiscal 2018 for the program, according to MACPAC. If that money doesn't come through, the estimated $243 million the state has available for the program will run out in February.

CHIP began in 1997 with bipartisan support and has been reauthorized with little drama since then. In 2016, it cost the federal government about $13.6 billion, according to The Washington Post. 

In other words, this is a program that costs the federal government less than 0.3 percent of the total budget but makes a huge difference in the lives of 9 million children under 19, making sure they have all their shots, ensuring access to dental and vision care and providing medical coverage during pregnancies.

House staffers say CHIP funding will be brought up in the next week or so, and they hope to get legislation funding the program and other safety nets through in time to prevent hardship, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

That's not good enough.

A program that costs very little in relation to the entire budget and does good for so many families across the country should receive funding before the deadline passes. Congress should have discussed this long before now. After all, CHIP funding shouldn't have been an emergency or a secret; this deadline has been in place since CHIP was last renewed in 2015. Lawmakers could have taken this up in January.

Congress is proving once again that, even with the health and well-being of children at stake, it is ready to drop the ball at a moment's notice. 

Our lawmakers need to move past the small-mindedness that has become a hallmark of Congress and get on with the task of governing this nation.

Unfortunately, the time to do this was last week, before the deadline passed.