States Planning to Drop Children from Health Insurance if Congress Doesn’t Act

By Suzanne Wikle

My son went to the doctor this week for his nine-month well-child visit. My husband and I took bets on how much he had grown since his last check-up and had a laundry list of questions for the doctor that probably only first-time parents obsess over (exactly how many ounces of formula should he be getting each day? Exactly how soft does finger food have to be?). After his visit, I made another appointment – three months from now for his one-year check-up. 

I scheduled the one-year appointment with zero hesitation because I know he will have health insurance when he needs to go to the doctor. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for 9 million children in this country who are insured through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  

Congress let funding for CHIP expire at the end of September (nearly two and a half months ago!).  States didn’t have to cut children off right away because they all had some amount of carryover funds, but that money is running out. The inaction by Congress is putting states is a tough situation. Because they can’t just automatically flip an “off switch” when they run out of federal money for CHIP, states have to start planning months in advance in case Congress doesn’t act. This planning includes informing families that their children’s health insurance may end. For instance, Colorado is already sending letters to families, creating terrifying uncertainty for parents, especially those whose children are receiving on-going treatments for chronic or acute conditions. Many other states are preparing to do the same thing as Colorado.

CHIP has received strong bipartisan support for 20 years, so the inability of Congress to provide another five years of funding for CHIP truly highlights the level of dysfunction we’ve reached in DC. The latest indication is that Congress may approve a very short-term fix to keep kids insured through the end of the year, but children need a longer-term solution. This delay is also forcing states to use their limited resources to prepare for ending a program that no one wants to end. Congress could put this all to rest by agreeing to fund CHIP for another five years – giving both states and families peace of mind.

I hope my son doesn’t need to go back to the doctor until his next appointment, but the reality is that kids get sick (I’m fully expecting another ear infection this winter), and he’ll probably be back in the doctor’s office before March. My hope is that every family has the ability to seek care for their kids without worrying how they’ll pay for it. It’s past time for Congress to act – the lives of children are literally hanging in the balance.