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Editorial: Congress must fund CHIP soon

While Congress is busy expanding the nation’s debt and deficit with a tax-cut plan, it is ignoring an overdue bill that jeopardizes health-care coverage for millions of children.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program lapsed on Sept. 30. It’s been around for 20 years, providing health care to children in families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private coverage.

The program holds appeal because children are relatively cheap to cover and they shouldn’t have to face the consequences of their parents’ insurance status. Before CHIP, the uninsured rate among children was 14 percent. Now it’s less than 5 percent. About 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women are covered nationwide, with about 60,000 in Washington state and 22,000 in Idaho.

CHIP started off as a bipartisan bill in 1997 and has been supported by Democrats and Republicans all along. It’s been so popular that when it wasn’t reauthorized in September, many observers said “Don’t sweat it.”

It’s time to sweat it.

States can hold on to to unspent funds, and that’s how many have gotten by since funding lapsed two months ago. But that only goes so far. Officials have been in a quandary over how to plan for contingencies without panicking families.

Colorado and Utah sent out notices last week telling families they risk losing CHIP coverage if Congress doesn’t act. Other states are expected to follow suit this month, alerting people to options such as Medicaid (if they qualify) or the private health care exchanges where they may be eligible for subsidies.

Arizona, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and the District of Columbia will be out of money by the end of December, according to an analysis by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. Washington state, along with Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, will run out by January or February.

Nearly every state will have its accounts drained by March.

The issue has gotten swept up in Affordable Care Act politics. The reauthorization deadline came around the time Republicans tried to repeal and replace the ACA, which consumed Capitol Hill.

In addition, the ACA boosted federal CHIP payments from 2014 to 2019, and Republicans want to rescind the increase. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., worked out a compromise that would phase out the increase over five years. It’s a reasonable solution in a time of budget deficits, but the Senate has yet to vote on CHIP reauthorization. It’s been consumed by tax cuts.

Speaking of unfinished work, Congress has not settled on a budget to keep the government running. It’s likely to pass a short-term continuing resolution as it works on a 2018 fiscal year budget. As a part of that exercise, it should reauthorize CHIP to allow millions of families to breathe a sigh of relief.


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