Health care is a human right — and no parent should have to worry about their child’s access to it. But when Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expire on September 30, 2017, health insurance for nearly nine million children was thrown into a state of limbo. Now states are scrambling to find solutions — with some even beginning to phase out health coverage for children altogether, leaving too many families without guaranteed access to care.
What is CHIP?
Since its enactment in 1997, CHIP has provided affordable coverage to uninsured, low-income children and adolescents up to the age of 19 in order to address insurance gaps for families with low incomes that exceed Medicaid limits. Congress later expanded CHIP to include uninsured pregnant women with low incomes. Today, CHIP provides insurance coverage for at least 320,000 pregnant women.
Protecting Young People
Since CHIP was created, the number of uninsured children in the U.S. has dropped dramatically from 10 million in 1997 to 3.3 million in 2015. In percentage terms, that is a drop in the rate of uninsurance among children from 13.9 percent to 4.5 percent.
But in early November, House Republicans proposed a bad deal: They wanted to make dramatic cuts to public health and prevention funding under the Affordable Care Act in return for supporting CHIP funding. Their deal also had other terrible provisions, including funding and trying to rebrand ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs with the innocuous sounding “Youth Empowerment Program.” Investing in programs that feed young people biased and often inaccurate information designed to shame them is anything but “empowering.”
CHIP and Reproductive Health Care
States rely on CHIP funding to reach many younger women with low incomes who need access to reproductive health care but whose families do not qualify for Medicaid. For these women, CHIP fills the gap until their 19th birthday, guaranteeing access to family planning and preventive health care services such as screenings for STIs and cervical cancer, as well as maternity and perinatal care.
This coverage has been essential for young people who have had limited access to reproductive health care — including young women of color — due to intersections of structural racism, inequality, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and other systemic barriers. Access to prenatal and maternity care can prevent maternal death, which Black women experience at three to four times the rate of white mothers.
How much would it cost to extend CHIP?
It costs $800 million to extend CHIP for five years, which is nothing compared to the recently passed tax bill. In fact, extending CHIP for 10 years would actually save the government a total of $6 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
While Republican members of Congress like Sen. Orrin Hatch claim the cost to reauthorize CHIP is a barrier, they had no problem adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit in order to pay for their disastrous so-called “tax reform” bill (which will take health care away from 13 million people and raise premiums by about 10 percent).