In Charles Dickens’ famous story, a seriously ill child melted the hard heart of Ebenezer Scrooge, who went from miser to generous benefactor to Bob Cratchit’s family, including and his son Tiny Tim. If only that image would move Congress to act to continue funding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Foot-dragging and partisanship threaten millions of kids’ access to health care and the clock is ticking.
This long-standing program provides health coverage targeted to low-income children and pregnant women in working families that earn too much for Medicaid but have no health insurance. It is jointly financed by the federal government and the states. Utah administers CHIP and in 2016 provided health insurance for more than 19,000 children statewide. If Congress takes no action and CHIP funding runs out, states won’t be able to continue to offer coverage through this important and bipartisan health insurance program.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was an original champion (along with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy) of CHIP when it was established as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. He worked across the aisle to ensure that children could receive care that includes early childhood screenings, well-child visits, vaccinations and vision and dental care. Many states provide coverage to pregnant women under CHIP so that they’ll receive prenatal care to help ensure the birth of a healthy baby. Research shows that this child-specific safety net is an efficient and effective way to provide care and improve outcomes, as well as to find and treat problems before they become more serious and more expensive health concerns. Health insurance for their children gives parents peace of mind that their kids are healthy and don’t miss days in school due to illness.
More than a third of Utah’s CHIP enrollees reside in Salt Lake County. I sent a letter to our congressional delegation in September, urging them to act quickly to provide a five-year extension of funding so that families would have certainty that their children’s access to health care continues uninterrupted. We’re now in cold and flu season, and during winter inversions, children with asthma have flare-ups. There’s never a good time for kids to lose health insurance coverage, but I’d argue that now is possibly the worst.
The certainty of funding is also vital so that states and counties may appropriately budget and plan for upcoming fiscal years. Utah officials have already submitted their intentions to close the CHIP program. How hard-hearted is it that members of Congress can’t even come together to reauthorize a tried-and-true program that helps so many hard-working Utah families trying to do the right thing for their children? I urge Utahns to call Sen. Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart, Mia Love and John Curtis and ask them to take immediate action to restore funding to this important program.
Given the uncertainty around health reform at the national level and the worries facing families and children regarding access to health care, I am sending this plea to Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Please look at the priorities for the short time left in this congressional year. Remember your promises to do right by American families when you campaigned for office and show that important issues such as health care for low-income kids trump partisan efforts to score political points.
Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, is the mayor of Salt Lake County.