SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Studies show that preventive medical care for children not only provides health benefits but is also cost-effective. That’s why advocates are clambering for Congress to preserve a federal insurance program for millions of middle and low income kids.
Funding for the program expired September 30 and republicans and democrats are squabbling over what to do next. Millions of kids nationally, including tens of thousands in Pennsylvania, are now in jeopardy of losing their health insurance.
“I can’t even wrap my head around how devastating that would be.” The dilemma Pennsylvania Human Services Acting Secretary Teresa Miller referenced on Wednesday at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton is a funding lapse in the Children’s Health Insurance Program or “CHIP” that threatens its existence.
“This is not a meeting that we should have to convene,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) for a roundtable discussion about the program’s uncertain future. He wasn’t the only one to voice frustration. “I’m just really concerned about the families. They need to have certainty in terms of health care for their kids,” said Secy. Miller.
176,000 children in Pennsylvania are enrolled in CHIP which makes low-cost health coverage affordable for qualifying middle and low income families. Two teenaged sons of single mom Kris Morgan of Blakely are enrolled in CHIP. “Every time I take them to see the doctors and the dentists and we went and they got glasses. So I use it, you know, whenever I need to use it,” she said.
Federal funding for the program expired September 30. Pennsylvania, like most states, has enough reserve funding to keep CHIP going for a few more months. But since the feds provide 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s $385 million CHIP funding, the program in the Commonwealth could cease after January 2018.
So how did we get to this CHIP funding crossroads? Sen. Casey said, in part, because so much time was spent in recent months by the GOP trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
CHIP has existed in Pennsylvania since 1993 and nationally for the past 20 years thanks to what Sen. Casey calls political bipartisanship. It’s what he said is needed now to preserve CHIP. “The Republican majority in Washington has control of the Senate and the House. They have to get this done. They should get it done the week that we go back meaning next week.”
But there’s no guarantee in this politically-charged climate that will happen. Until it does, the nine million children enrolled in CHIP nationwide are left in limbo. Congress is expected to take up bipartisan legislation at some point to consider extending CHIP funding through 2022.