Editorial: Congress must renew children’s insurance program

Some 9 million children depend on CHIP for health care. Not renewing it would be costly and cruel.

By The Herald Editorial Board

If there’s good news in Congress reaching a deal on tax cuts that will largely benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans, it’s that Congress might now find time for other issues it has shelved while Republicans slapped together the tax package with virtually no debate nor analysis.

Among those issues, of course, is action to formalize the protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the 800,000 Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. and children and know no other home — that President Trump rescinded earlier this year. But also waiting for Congress to act are the more than 9 million U.S. children who receive health care coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the federal and state partnership that provides access to health care for children of families who lack adequate coverage.

CHIP, known in Washington state as Apple Health for Kids, provides medical, dental and vision coverage for children of families who don’t qualify for Medicaid but earn no more than 312 percent of the federal poverty level. A family of four can’t earn more than $73,800 to qualify for coverage that includes a reasonable monthly premium payment.

That coverage, particularly for working poor families, is critical to children’s health, Mary Wood of the state’s Health Care Authority told public radio station KNKX (88.5 FM) earlier in November.

It’s “critical for kids’ success in school and in life, and to us it’s a cornerstone for the success of kids,” Woods said.

Federal funding for the program lapsed Sept. 30, as Congress struggled and ultimately failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In the absence of that funding, states have continued the program, filling in with unspent federal funds. But for most states that source will begin to dry up near the end of January or February.

About 25,500 children in the state — and more than 3,000 in Snohomish County — could lose their health care coverage if CHIP funding is not renewed. State health officials have not notified families of the possible loss of their children’s insurance, but unless Congress takes action soon it would be able to give families only 60 days notice that the program was ending.

Oregon expects that its federal reserves will run out sometime this month and has said it may have to use state funds to continue coverage. A similar decision may confront Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers when the legislative session begins in January.

Since its creation twenty years ago, with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, as one of its initial co-sponsors, CHIP has enjoyed bipartisan support. That support remains, but it hasn’t put CHIP funding beyond politics, which is largely to blame for the delay.

The House passed a five-year extension of CHIP in November, but it came mostly on a party-line vote with Democrats objecting to provisions that would have cut funding to the Affordable Care Act’s public health fund and would have shortened the grace period for Obamacare enrollees who were late with premium payments.

It’s nothing more than a backdoor attempt to weaken Obamacare — similar to the move to end the ACA’s insurance mandate as part of the Republican tax reforms — and it’s using children’s health security to open that door.

CHIP — which helps ensure better health for children and avoids much costlier care were they to become sick or develop chronic illnesses later in life — deserves renewal on its own merits.

Not renewing it would be costly and cruel.

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