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August 7, 2017

Extension of Children’s Health Law Offers Opportunity for Bipartisanship 

Failure to Renew the CHIP Law Would Show Congress Is Dysfunctional 

Can Congress reach a bipartisan agreement on a health care bill?  I think it can and absolutely should, and renewal of the very popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offers the best chance to show that bipartisanship is still possible.  However, ensuring that law is renewed will probably require a strong push from parents, advocates and providers.

Renewal of the CHIP law should be one of the top priorities for Congress after federal lawmakers return from the August recess because the current authorization for the program is set to expire on September 30. After the bruising defeat of the ACA “repeal and replace” legislation, extending CHIP is a way for legislators in both parties to score a popular victory and demonstrate that the health care debate doesn’t always produce paralysis.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which celebrated its 20th birthday on August 4, works hand-in-hand with Medicaid to provide critical health coverage to about 500,000 Wisconsin children. Together these programs have helped our state achieve an historic percentage of covered kids—96% as of 2015. We need to keep both Medicaid and CHIP strong to make sure every child has a chance to grow up healthy and succeed in life.

Medicaid and CHIP offer free or low-cost health coverage for kids, and cover important services like doctor and dentist visits, immunizations, prescriptions, hospital visits and more. They are a lifeline for working families in Wisconsin who aren’t offered or can’t afford health insurance on their own.

The enactment of the CHIP legislation in August of 1997 was a triumph of bipartisan cooperation on health care coverage.  CHIP’s enactment demonstrated broad support for making welfare reform work by ensuring coverage for children in low-income working families. A couple months later, Governor Thompson and Wisconsin legislators in both parties took that idea a step further by creating BadgerCare and extending eligibility to parents, as well as children, up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

We must renew the national commitment to low-income children before CHIP funding expires at the end of September. To ensure states like Wisconsin can successfully and responsibly run the program and kids can get the coverage they need, Congress should pass a clean, bipartisan, long-term extension of CHIP funding.

Fortunately, there continue to be many Republicans who support CHIP, including Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.  In a  joint press release last week with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Hatch said: 

“In a time of polarization and partisanship, especially with issues related to health care, CHIP is a proven program that delivers high-quality coverage to vulnerable children in Utah and across the country.”

On the other hand, President Trump’s budget proposed a couple of substantial changes that would make deep cuts in CHIP funding (as well as Medicaid) and could sharply reduce the number of children who have health insurance.  One of the changes he recommended would reduce the federal match rate for CHIP spending  by 23 percentage points, beginning in October, which would cost Wisconsin well over $100 million in the 2017-19 budget bill.

We must protect Medicaid and CHIP to ensure that no kids lose coverage and that parents have the security they need to take care of their families. Protecting one without the other would leave families in a lurch and put states in a terrible budget bind. Only by safeguarding both Medicaid and CHIP can we ensure that the quality, affordable health coverage families depend on is stable and secure.

Jon Peacock