Will Congress Act in Time to Keep CHIP Coverage in Place for Kids?

Last month, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of CHIP – an acronym that needs no explanation to readers of Say Ahhh! Over the years, CHIP’s high profile and strong bipartisan popularity has played a significant role in advancing children’s coverage, along with earlier expansions of Medicaid to the most vulnerable children.

CHIP spurred states to brand their programs, conduct marketing and outreach, build community partnerships, and test procedural simplifications that drive administrative efficiency. CHIP also sparked a renewed determination in the United States to enroll all uninsured children eligible for Medicaid while expanding access through CHIP.

The results have been striking with the U.S. reaching the historic milestone of covering 95 percent of the nation’s children.

But as Congress returns from August recess, is our nation’s success in covering children at risk? In my commentary in this month’s Health Affairs, I examine this question.

More than eight million children rely on CHIP for the health care they need to succeed in school and life. Funding for CHIP expires in less than four weeks. States have already finalized their FY 2018 budgets, most with the assumption that the current funding levels will continue.

In contemplating the future of CHIP, it’s important to dispel two myths. First, Marketplace coverage does not offer an adequate alternative to CHIP, particularly considering that the future of the Affordable Care Act remains uncertain.

Second, it is shortsighted for Congress to believe the residual funds states have from their current allotments gives Congress time to act later in the year. The timeline and costs associated with freezing or phasing out CHIP coverage have not been factored into estimates of when states would run out of money if CHIP is not extended by the end of this month. And what happens if Congress comes up short in finding consensus about the future of children’s coverage?

The effort to cover ALL children has lasted for decades. During that period, the United States has come a long way, and today it is very close to achieving that goal. Public opinion research reflects strong support for Medicaid and CHIP among voters of all political stripes. Could guaranteeing coverage for all children provide the bipartisan “win” that Congress needs to prove it can get something positive done?

With the impending expiration of CHIP funds, the United States is at a crossroads when it comes to covering children. One path would take the nation over the finish line; another would reverse years of progress. The country guarantees coverage for 99 percent of our seniors. It should do nothing less for the nation’s children.

Tricia Brooks is a Research Professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.