GOP cashes in their CHIPs, denies healthcare to 9 million poor children

The Republican-led Congress failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) this weekend, spreading fear among states that rely on federal funding for the program. 
Lawmakers missed the September 30th deadline to reauthorize the Clinton-era initiative, which provides insurance coverage for millions of kids in families with lower to middle-class incomes.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) insisted last week that an “overwhelming number of states have some money to continue to spend” on the program. “So think that in other words, there’s a few days leeway — there might be a few weeks leeway,” he added. “But I can’t be specific because I don’t know but it’s too bad it’s not done right now.”

Despite Grassley’s assurances, many states are concerned because their federal funding for CHIP runs out on Saturday. With no incoming vote on reestablishing the program’s $15-billion appropriation, states are in turmoil. Even those who have money now can’t escape the consequences of Congress’ inaction, because they can’t merely assume that Congress will eventually get around to reauthorizing the funding, they have to start planning to shut down their programs now, or reallocate funding from other sources.

The consequences will be dire in many states, which will have to curtail or even shut down their children’s health programs until funding is restored. Hanging in the balance is care for 9 million children and pregnant women in low-income households.

What happened? The simple answer is that congressional Republicans’ last harebrained attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act got in the way. A funding bill for CHIP seemed to be well on its way to enactment until a week or so ago. That’s when the effort to pass the egregious Cassidy-Graham repeal bill sucked all the air out of the legislative room, even though CHIP is one of the few federal programs that has enjoyed unalloyed bipartisan support since its inception in 1997. 

Agreement on a bill had been reached in mid-September by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “Momentum was building,” says Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy group in Washington. Then came Cassidy-Graham, and “we couldn’t even get a meeting,” Lesley says. “No one was even taking our calls.”
 By the way, if you’re wondering why Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price hasn’t bothered to sound the alarm about CHIP funding, which falls within his bailiwick, consider that as a Georgia legislator he voted twice against expanding the program in his state.

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