Despite another display of thunder and commotion last week, the Republican-controlled Congress didn’t manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But in a separate example of political malpractice, the House and Senate quietly put 9 million children, including 2 million in California, from low- to middle-income families at risk of losing their health insurance.
Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired Saturday due to congressional inaction.
CHIP, as the program is commonly known, is a genuine success story. Enacted in 1997, with bipartisan support and participation from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it is credited with reducing the uninsured rate for children from 14 percent to 4.5 percent.
The program provides federal matching funds to states that offer health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase coverage of their own. In 11 poorer states, the federal government picks up the full cost.
CHIP covers routine preventive care such as checkups, immunizations, doctor visits, prescriptions and dental and vision care. It also covers outpatient hospital and emergency care. Some participants pay premiums as well as co-payments for certain services.
In most states, children are eligible if their families earn less than double the federal poverty level, which is $48,600 for a family of four here in California.
Ten states, including California, will run out of money by the end of December if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the program and appropriate funding for the fiscal year that started Sunday, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Thirty-two more states will run out of money by the end of March, with some preparing to freeze enrollment and others warning that they will shut the program down.
By all appearances, the CHIP reauthorization is collateral damage in the GOP effort to kill Obamacare.
Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, were working out the details of a five-year extension in mid-September. But there was no sign of activity in the House, and progress in the Senate stalled as Republicans fixated yet again on the Affordable Care Act, this time trying to beat a Saturday deadline to push a repeal bill without the risk of a Democratic filibuster.
After that display of political ineptitude, Republicans in Congress are desperate for an accomplishment before the 2018 midterm election.
Many of them are counting on a tax bill that’s already proving to be controversial. They might have better luck renewing the CHIP program, which costs about $15 billion a year and insures about 9 million children.
Unlike tax cuts for the wealthy, that would provide real results for working families. Healthier kids spend more time in school, and their parents miss less time at work.
A Senate committee is set to resume work on the Hatch-Wyden legislation today, and the Washington Post reported that a bill containing both a CHIP renewal and hurricane relief for Puerto Rico will be taken up today by a House committee.
That’s good news. Allowing this program to expire was a mistake, and Congress needs to rectify it by sending renewal legislation to the president before millions of children begin to lose their insurance.