A Plea to Congress: Save the Children’s Health Insurance Program
Guest Editorial By Dr. Tony Slonim
In Nevada, nearly 70,000 children are enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, a federal program that provides affordable health insurance to working families who don’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford a private policy. Do you know that thousands of children in our home state could lose coverage this spring if Congress doesn’t approve continued funding for this decades-old program?
For working families struggling to make ends meet, this could mean forgoing well-child visits and immunizations in favor of paying rent, putting food on the table and keeping the lights on. Even worse, children with chronic health conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, asthma and autism may have to go without treatment, therapy and important medications.
In a state that ranks 47th in the nation for child well-being, 45th in child health, and 40th for economic well-being, we can’t afford to let Nevada’s children fall even further behind.
I applaud Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., and all Nevada congressional representatives who have urged congressional leaders to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program after Congress missed its Sept. 30 deadline to renew the program. Nevada, along with more than a dozen other states, was projected to run out of CHIP funding by the new year. The welcome news— in which our representatives had a big hand —is that CHIP funding was extended—but only through March 2018.
Now, we look to Congress to fund this essential program for an additional five years.
Who benefits from CHIP, which is administered in our state as Nevada Check Up? These are families with parents who are working but make too much to apply for Medicaid, and for whom private and employer-funded plans are cost-prohibitive and remain out-of-reach. These are our neighbors. These are our friends. These are our child’s classmates.
It’s also likely you’ve never heard of CHIP. Historically, there’s been little controversy surrounding the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was passed in 1997 and championed by late senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah. The program provides low-cost, comprehensive health care coverage to low-income uninsured children birth through age 18 who are not covered by private insurance or Medicaid.
At last count, 8.9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women in America are covered by CHIP programs, which are administered by states according to federal requirements. Two million of those children have one of six chronic health conditions, including asthma, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, mood disorders and developmental disorders such as autism.
The program is not free for families—premiums are $25, $50 or $80 quarterly based on family size—and non-payment results in being shut-out of the program for 90 days. After paying the quarterly premium, families are not required to pay deductibles, co-payments or other charges for covered services. The plans include networks of pediatricians, pediatric specialists and surgical subspecialists and children’s hospitals, as well as provide dental coverage and mental health and substance abuse services for children and adolescents.
Program eligibility varies by state. To qualify for Nevada’s CHIP Program, Nevada Check Up, the maximum annual income for a family of four is $49,200. To qualify for Medicaid, the same family would have to have an annual household income below $33,948. Without CHIP, these families are left in healthcare limbo—ineligible for Medicaid and priced out of private insurance.
We cannot leave these children behind. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The measure of a country’s greatness should be based on how well it cares for its most vulnerable populations.” I agree and urge you to ask Congress to again pass a bipartisan solution to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for another five years, so that every child in America has the opportunity to achieve their highest potential.