Children from lower-income families could soon lose access to affordable health care because the Republican leaders in Congress have failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This is a travesty.
After passing a lavish tax cut for corporations and wealthy families, Congress hastily left town last month without reauthorizing the federal-state health insurance program, which benefits nearly nine million children. Authorization expired in September, and so far states have kept CHIP going with unspent funds carried over from previous appropriations. Before Christmas, Congress allocated $2.85 billion to the program, saying that the money would take care of the children’s needs until the end of March. But that appears to have been a gross miscalculation, because the Trump administration said on Friday that some states would start running out of money after Friday, Jan. 19.
CHIP was created in 1997 and has helped halve the percentage of children who are uninsured. It has been reauthorized by bipartisan majorities of Congress in the past. But Republican leaders in Congress all but abandoned the program last fall and devoted their time to trying to pass an unpopular tax bill that will increase the federal debt by $1.8 trillion over the next decade, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis released last week. By contrast, CHIP costs the federal government roughly $14.5 billion a year, or $145 billion over 10 years.
Republicans have held children’s insurance hostage to force Democrats to accept cuts to other programs. Last year, House Republicans insisted that they would reauthorize CHIP only if Democrats agreed to offset spending on the program with cuts to Medicare and a public health program created by the Affordable Care Act. Democrats balked at those demands, given that Republicans did not bother to offset the loss of revenue from their boondoggle tax cuts.
A deal between the two sides should theoretically be easier to reach now. That’s because the C.B.O. said last week that reauthorizing CHIP would add just $800 million to the federal deficit over 10 years, much less than the $8.2 billion it had projected earlier. The budget office updated its estimates after the adoption of the tax law. That law will significantly reduce federal spending on health care by eliminating the requirement that people buy insurance, which many people do with the help of government subsidies. The budget office says that provision and a separate change to insurance regulations by the Trump administration will reduce the cost of insuring children.
(Excerpted from New York Times 1/8/18)