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Editorial: Congress needs a quick fix for CHIP

After fumbling three attempts to pass unpopular health care bills, Congress is now tripping over a popular one.

Chalk it up to crisis legislating, which is the new normal on Washington, D.C., where every issue is taken right to the deadline and beyond.

Funding expired Sunday for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a program that ensures children in low- to moderate-income families have access to health care. The program began in 1997, thanks to a bipartisan bill.

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 are covered nationwide, with about 60,000 in Washington state and 22,000 in Idaho.

In mid-September, reauthorization looked safe, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., reaching agreement on a five-year extension. Then the third attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act grabbed all of the attention on Capitol Hill.

States can hold unspent CHIP funds in reserve, so the impact of failing to reauthorize varies from state to state. Medicaid officials, who manage the federal funds, say some states will begin feeling the impact by the end of December. Half the states, including Washington and Idaho, will be affected by the end of March, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Affordable Care Act increased federal allotments to CHIP from 2014-2019. Conservatives want to kill that increase; liberals want to make it permanent. Hatch and Wyden settled on phasing it out over several years. That’s a reasonable compromise with the federal budget deficit running so high.

The Senate bill passed the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, both sit on the committee and they support the bill.

However, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has its own version, and the chief difference is financing. Republicans on the committee want to tap Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to pay for reauthorization. The panel passed its bill, with all Democrats opposing, which sets up an all-too-familiar situation in Congress if these competing versions both succeed: a stalemate.

It isn’t reasonable to let CHIP lapse for any period of time. By the same token, it is reasonable to ask how it will be paid for. The same holds true for the House and Senate as they ponder tax cuts. The president’s proposal comes without commensurate budget offsets.

CHIP has been a great success, and it remains popular among Republicans and Democrats. Congress should pass an extension, and be quick about it.

If it can’t, then it really is hopeless on health care.

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Editorial: Washington state lawmakers scramble to keep public in the dark

State lawmakers want to create a legislative loophole in Washington’s Public Records Act. While it’s nice to see Democrats and Republicans working together for once, it’s just too bad that their agreement is that the public is the enemy. As The Spokesman-Review’s Olympia reporter Jim Camden explained Feb. 22, lawmakers could vote on a bill today responding to a court order that the people of Washington are entitled to review legislative records.