Nearly nine million children across the country receive health care services through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, enacted with bipartisan congressional support in 1997 to provide health care coverage for children from eligible families with low and moderate incomes. In our four states — Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada and Oregon — more than 300,000 children rely on the program, known as CHIP. But any day now, if Congress doesn’t act, these kids could lose the health care they depend on.
Since the program went into effect, the percentage of children who are uninsured has dropped from 15 percent to 5.3 percent. Children who would otherwise be uninsured can now visit doctors for the regular checkups all kids should have and get the treatment they need when they’re sick or hurt, whether they’re suffering from a sore throat, a broken bone or a life-threatening illness. CHIP doesn’t just provide insurance coverage for children — it indirectly provides financial stability for many working families who depend on the program to cover their children’s health care. Many of them would otherwise be financially devastated by their kids’ hospital bills.
Now, the program is on the brink of elimination. As Congress debated health care proposals, federal funding for CHIP was allowed to expire in late September. When CHIP became law two decades ago, it was a bipartisan success story. And it will take bipartisan action in the coming weeks to avoid a congressional failure that will hurt many of the country’s children.
Governors like us are horrified by this possibility, because we know how much the people who live in our states and depend on CHIP will suffer if Congress fails to act. Failure to reauthorize CHIP would harm children and families almost immediately. According to the federal Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, nearly every state will exhaust its federal CHIP allotments early in 2018. Several will exhaust them even sooner. When our money runs out, our states will face crippling cuts to our children’s health care coverage.
That’s why, over the past several months, governors have actively worked with our congressional delegations and federal officials to offer bipartisan strategies for reauthorizing CHIP.
If the program is not reauthorized and states are unable to find ways to make up the difference to pay for what has historically been a joint federal and state program, kids will suffer. As early as February, one in 10 kids in Oregon and Montana could lose access to the comprehensive health coverage they have now.
Similarly, without CHIP reauthorization, Massachusetts and Nevada face huge reductions in federal funding — $295 million and $74 million each year, respectively — meaning officials in these states would have to make painful choices about how to pay for children’s health care.
As governors, we have heard countless stories from our constituents who need CHIP’s critical services. Take the Gorry family of Oregon. Erin Gorry was pregnant with her second child when her family’s health insurance premiums increased. The Gorrys struggled to pay the $800 a month required to continue coverage for Erin and her unborn baby. They couldn’t afford the additional payment to cover their 2-year-old daughter, Simone.
As Erin went into labor, they noticed Simone was limping and had a fever. Emergency room doctors discovered that she had a fast-growing and serious bone infection. Simone needed surgery to save her leg, but the Gorrys had no means to pay for the procedure.
A nurse realized the family might be eligible for CHIP and helped them fill out the application. They qualified, and the program paid most of Simone’s medical bills. “Without CHIP, we probably would have had to sell our house and declare bankruptcy,” Ms. Gorry said.
Simone is one of nine million children who could lose their health care coverage if CHIP is not funded. The only hope is for members of Congress to act in a bipartisan manner.
As governors, we are committed to promoting initiatives that support the health and well-being of those who don’t have a platform to speak for themselves. When it comes to this goal, few programs are more essential than CHIP. Partisanship didn’t stand in the way of CHIP when it was enacted, and it shouldn’t stand in the way now that the program is in danger. We’re calling on Congress to act, and to act quickly, before the end of 2017.
Our children cannot wait.