What if there were a bipartisan health care plan that worked? What if it gave states lots of flexibility and represented a true private-public partnership? What if it delivered quality care for kids at a cost their parents can afford? And what if it was incredibly successful and overwhelmingly popular with voters? You’d think Congress would be rushing to protect it. But think again.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program was created by a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic president. And recent polling shows that CHIP continues to enjoy strong, bipartisan support.
Why? Because CHIP works — in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Pennsylvania families continue to struggle through a tough economy, but in partnership with Medicaid, CHIP has protected children from becoming uninsured. And it’s true throughout the country. The nonpartisan Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that the uninsurance rate among children in America is lower today than before the recession.
CHIP delivers quality care that working parents can afford. It offers child-specific care with much lower out-of-pocket costs than plans available under the Affordable Care Act.
CHIP covers more of the care kids need than ACA plans available in Pennsylvania. And a family of four with an annual income of about $51,000 pays about $100 a year in out-of-pocket costs for care delivered through CHIP. But if CHIP were to end, they would face out-of-pocket costs of nearly $1,000 through average ACA plans available in Pennsylvania. That’s right — 10 times the out-of-pocket cost for less of the child-specific care Pennsylvania kids need.
With care that meets their unique health and developmental needs, childhood health issues don’t become lifelong burdens. And with CHIP, Pennsylvania’s health care system can focus on improving health, not ignoring problems until they require costly emergency room care. We all win when CHIP delivers the care kids need to grow, learn and thrive.
So, what’s the problem? Federal funding for CHIP will expire a year from now. But next year’s Pennsylvania budget debate begins in February, well in advance of that federal deadline. In fact, policy makers in Harrisburg will likely begin drafting that budget in just a few weeks, yet they have no indication from Congress that federal support will continue for CHIP.
Without assurances from Washington, state leaders throughout the country will feel pressure to propose wait-lists, eligibility caps or even termination of their CHIP programs. The results could be untold thousands — maybe millions — of children uninsured, increased Medicaid enrollment and children forced into ACA plans that offer less child-specific care and dramatically higher out-of-pocket costs.
Pittsburgh-area congressional representatives can help. Both Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over CHIP. And Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, are influential voices on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has primary jurisdiction in the House.
There really is a bipartisan health care plan that works for kids. And there is still time for Pennsylvania leaders to protect it — by insisting that Congress extend CHIP funding before adjourning for the year. If they do, Pennsylvania children and families will lead healthier, better lives. And they’ll send an important message that politicians are still able to work together to solve real problems for real people.
Bruce Lesley is president of First Focus, a bipartisan organization that seeks to make children and families a top federal priority(firstfocus.org).