Jim Carnes is the Policy Director of the Arise Citizens’ Policy Project.
Alabama voters are accustomed to the hot glare of national media attention, but not the warm glow. Doug Jones’ stunning upset victory over Roy Moore for Jeff Sessions’ U. S. Senate seat has cast our state in the most favorable light many of us can remember. Children’s advocates are especially pleased that Jones chose to include in his eloquent and widely viewed acceptance speech an admonishment to his new Senate colleagues: Get on with funding CHIP.
In calling out Congress’ reckless disregard for the families who depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known here as ALL Kids, Jones highlights another rare point of Alabama civic pride. After Congress authorized the creation of state CHIPs in the late 1990s, ALL Kids became the first plan in the country to win federal approval. Our uninsured rate for children at that time was 20 percent. Two decades later, the rate is 2.4 percent. That achievement affirms ALL Kids’ consistent performance as a national model program. Strong legislative commitment has been a key part of ALL Kids’ success, and we can only hope our state legislators are raising the alarm for CHIP funding as they prepare to convene next month.
Alabama officials have been holding their breath since Congress failed to reauthorize funding for the program by September 30. Reserve funds, they figured, could maintain health coverage for the state’s 150,000 CHIP children (nearly half of whom are enrolled in Medicaid with CHIP funding) for a few months – surely enough time for Congress to act.
But here we are two weeks from year’s end, and our federal lawmakers have yet to secure long-term CHIP funding, which normally spans multiple years. With budget reserves shrinking and no solution in sight, ALL Kids chose the day after Christmas as the time to inform parents that their children’s health coverage could expire at the end of January. A three-month stopgap plan approved this week giving state governments easier access to unused prior funds only postpones that painful news. Parents know a crisis is coming. Toying with children’s coverage creates a health hazard in its own right – an entirely preventable one.
Senator-elect Doug Jones is wasting no time using his new visibility to champion Alabama’s remarkable progress in children’s health insurance. His voice, joining those of Congresswoman Terri Sewell and other CHIP advocates in the state, is loud and clear: Get on with it.
The interactive map below shows the important role Medicaid and CHIP fill for Alabama’s children.