Co-authored by Kristen Golden Testa, Director of the California Health Program, The Children's Partnership
Now that campaigns for midterm elections are behind us and the results are in, Congress can turn back to the important business of governing. There is one pressing issue that offers our elected officials the opportunity to show they can solve problems in a bipartisan manner -- keeping our children healthy. Congress has the chance to act immediately to renew funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP is a highly effective and popular program that provides millions of children with the health coverage they need to get a healthy start in life.
Next year, federal funding for CHIP is set to expire unless Congress acts to extend it. First enacted some 17 years ago with bipartisan support, CHIP has helped millions of families afford comprehensive health coverage for their children. The program has had an enormous role in cutting in half the number of uninsured children in this country since its inception (13.9 percent in 1997 to 6.6 percent in 2012). And according to a new report released by a Georgetown University research center today, we've put the CHIP funding to work here in California. The number of uninsured children declined by 28% in a five-year period, (from 930,526 uninsured children in 2008 to 673,208 uninsured children in 2013).
CHIP is extremely popular and overwhelmingly supported by Americans of all political stripes, according to recent polls. But despite widespread, bipartisan public support expressed to Congress for refunding CHIP, today's Congress makes the fate of CHIP funding unclear. Indeed, expression of public support has not always translated into action by Congress. If Congress can't agree to continue funding for a program that has proven its value and supports children who most need its services, then what else of value can we possibly expect from our elected legislative representatives in Washington, DC?
Studies have shown that CHIP provides superior benefits and the type of benefits that children specifically need. One study found that CHIP coverage provides more child-tailored benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs compared to even the strong benefit packages offered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges.
Children with special health care needs could be hit the hardest. Without CHIP, for example, children's families in some states could go from paying nothing in CHIP to over $5,000 in annual out-of -pocket expenditures, according to the same study. The fact of the matter is there is no other program available that provides the same, needed level of tailor-made care for children at an affordable cost for families who need it most.
The importance of health to the overall development of a child cannot be overstated. Children who receive regular health care avoid costly hospitalizations. They also learn better. In California, children covered by the State's CHIP Program showed a 63 percent improvement in paying attention and keeping up in school over their previous performance when uninsured.
This Fall, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chair of the Finance Committee, held a hearing on CHIP. In his opening remarks, he spoke to the success of the program and its bipartisan roots. Seventeen years ago, he, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT), sought to tackle a pressing problem in this country, and they succeeded in creating a program that has helped ease the stress families have felt from not being able to afford health care for their child if something goes wrong. Senator Rockefeller also reminded us that over the course of the program's life, it has consistently enjoyed strong bipartisan support.
Right now is the right time for Congress to put aside its partisan battles and take action to continue funding for CHIP. Without it, an estimated 1.9 million children would lose access to affordable health insurance coverage. No matter which party affiliation a member chooses, Congress should commit to giving every child a fair shot at a healthy start. Extending funding for the CHIP program will do just that.