It’s Time to Act on CHIP

By Suzanne Wikle

Funding for health insurance coverage for millions of children is set to expire at the end of the month. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) currently covers over 8 million low-income children in working families with income too high to qualify for Medicaid. CHIP has always received strong bipartisan support, and it’s time for another show of support before federal funding expires on September 30.

Congress should act quickly to approve a clean five-year extension of CHIP in order to prevent disruptions in coverage for millions of children. Otherwise, states will have to start making tough decisions about administering CHIP. Without quick action by Congress, states will soon begin informing families that their children’s health insurance may end. The timeline for this will vary by state, but the only way to avoid confusing messages to families is for Congress to take action this month to extend CHIP for five years.

Together with Medicaid, CHIP has helped bring children’s coverage rates to a historic high of 95 percent as of 2015. While many of the parents of CHIP-enrolled children now receive their coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s marketplace, children have better access to critical benefits through CHIP than through most marketplace plans. These advantages of CHIP include pediatric dental coverage, language-translation and transportation services, fewer limits on services, and lower cost sharing requirements.

CHIP also provides vital coverage for nearly 2 million children in families affected by the ACA’s “family glitch,” which prevents a family from qualifying for marketplace tax credits if one member of the household is offered affordable employer coverage—even if family coverage is not offered through the employer plan or if the family coverage is unaffordable. Without CHIP, these children would likely be uninsured, since their families are not eligible for tax credits for marketplace coverage.

Poised to enter its third decade this year, CHIP builds on Medicaid’s strong foundation to provide high-quality coverage to children. Thanks to these strong programs, children’s rate of insurance is at a historic high. The U.S. Census Bureau will release the 2016 figures for health insurance coverage on September 12, and we expect that children’s coverage will remain at historic highs. Maintaining these gains depends on consistency in the programs.

When the Senate Finance Committee held a CHIP hearing on September 7, witnesses and Senators from both parties spoke to the difference that CHIP makes in children's lives. The time is now to act on this agreement and preserve health insurance for more than 8 million children by authorizing a clean five-year extension of CHIP.