Congress must make children’s health a priority

Congress must make children’s health a priority

January, 12 2018Happy mother wirh her baby

Imagine if you had to choose between refilling your son’s asthma medication and paying rent, or wondering if you can afford to take your daughter to the dentist or might wait another week to see if her tooth stops hurting. These are decisions that working parents may have to make if Congress doesn’t reauthorizing Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), known as FAMIS in Virginia. These services are a lifeline for families, providing free or low-cost coverage for kids whose working parents aren’t offered or can’t afford health insurance on their own.

Providing health insurance for children living in low income families makes sense from a variety of perspectives. When children are healthy, they miss less school, are better students and have brighter futures. When kids go to the doctor for regular preventive care, parents miss less time from work. When kids have health insurance, they go to the doctor more and emergency room less.  Affordable health care is a critical foundation for functional families.

CHIP fills an important gap by providing health coverage to low-income children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy coverage for their kids. With bipartisan origins, CHIP is one of Congresses most successful creations, having cut the proportion of uninsured children by two thirds since its 1997 enactment. More than 3 months ago, Congress allowed funding for CHIP to lapse. While Congress provided stopgap funding for the program until March, 1000 pregnant women and working parents of more than 68,000 children in Virginia are now in limbo wondering if their children will have healthcare in the months to come.

Because Congress hasn’t done their job, Virginia’s legislators will also be wondering how they can do their work knowing they might need to appropriate $52.9 million of unanticipated funding not in the current budget. Additionally, to continue providing coverage in FY 2019, Virginia lawmakers would need to appropriate an additional unanticipated $137.3 million. An unanticipated expense of such magnitude would force lawmakers to make difficult budget reduction decisions such as raising taxes, pulling back on other budget priorities like mental health or cutting kids medical coverage.

Congress needs to treat children’s healthcare as a top priority. Forcing states to scramble to keep their children’s healthcare programs afloat by tapping into emergency funds is inefficient and irresponsible governance. Stringing along families who rely on CHIP for their kid’s coverage for months is not only callous but harmful—uncertainty may lead families to withdraw from the program and forego needed treatment or quit jobs to qualify for Medicaid.  There’s no good reason for children in need to be denied access to health care. Congress must fund CHIP immediately to provide fiscal stability for states and health security for families in need.

Submitted by Lisa Specter-Dunaway, Vice Chair FACT Board of Trustees & CEO at Family Forwards Virginia

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