Children’s health insurance has become a political hostage
The real reason CHIP is still unfunded, four months later.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program is enduring an unprecedented crisis: More than 100 days ago, funding for a program that covers 9 million kids technically expired. Republicans in Congress haven’t rushed to extend it long-term — not until they could get something in return.
CHIP is ostensibly among the most popular, most bipartisan parts of the social safety net, with proven benefits for children’s health and the financial well-being of their families. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in November found extending its funding was the American public’s top legislative priority.
But it has been left to twist in the wind while families receive “devastating” letters from their states about the program’s possible end. CHIP funding was expiring at the end of September, but Republicans set it aside that month to pursue a last-ditch run at repealing Obamacare. Then in November, the House passed a CHIP extension, which would have cut Medicare and Obamacare funding to appease their most conservative members and cover the then-$8 billion price tag. Now, after the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in the Republican tax bill, Congress could extend CHIP for a full six years at no cost to the government — and it would in fact save the government money if they extended it further.
So Republicans, after months of criticism and a stalemate over how to pay for CHIP, have decided to turn the tables: They attached a six-year CHIP extension to their short-term spending bill in an attempt to deter Democrats from shutting down the federal government this week over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the two parties still haven’t agree on how to fix.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) 19 January 2018
“The inexcusable delays in extending CHIP … have brought us to a moment now when the CHIP debate no longer has anything to do with CHIP,” Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, told me via email. “The policy is long settled, and there are no offsets needed — CHIP has merely become a bargaining chip. This is a very sad state of affairs.”
Interviews with several sources who know the program and the political dynamics around it say what many Republicans will not out loud: Some in their party, particularly archconservatives in the House, have deeply ambivalent feelings about CHIP, and if they are going to extend it, they want spending cuts to Obamacare or Medicare in return, as the CHIP extension that the House muscled through in November did.