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Failure to reauthorize CHIP is a health care disaster for American children

Failure to reauthorize CHIP is a health care disaster for American children
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While a largely restored economy brings glad tidings and hope to many in our country at the end of 2017, low-income families remain burdened with a host of unresolved issues that threaten to undermine the child health safety net they depend on.

So, as we give thanks and celebrate the holidays, we must remember this important fact: Children are not just tomorrow — they are today. The stock market reaches new highs, yet pragmatism and principle demand an additional investment: our children.

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Congress continues to wrangle over whether to restore funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a vital safety net that insures nine million children in working-class families. The federal government allowed CHIP to expire in September.

 

There is enough money in New York’s coffers for its program to run through December, but 350,000 kids in this state are at risk of losing health insurance early in the new year.

Due to inability to fully appreciate the scope and impact of their neglect, Congress has also allowed critical funding to lapse for community health centers — where many CHIP-covered kids actually receive health services — and the National Health Service Corps, which helps communities lacking doctors to attract them by providing debt relief.

The broader lens here reveals that less than eight percent of the federal budget is spent on children’s programs, though children constitute 22.8 percent of U.S. population, according to the 2017 Budget Book recently released by the highly-regarded child advocacy group First Focus.

Certainly, we can do better.

Among the range of band aid solutions, the House of Representatives is currently weighing a stopgap measure that would ensure states with diminishing funds are not exhausted.

This continuing resolution would allow a technical adjustment in how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allocate funds; that means states that are in dire straits because they have already — or are close to — depleting their CHIP funding will be apportioned additional federal dollars through Dec. 31, 2017.

This includes states which may already have received an allotment and would, temporarily, ease the burden unfairly imposed on many families in desperate need. This is not a partisan issue, it about our children’s livelihood.

Again, CHIP covers nine-million kids whose parents are working; the families make too much money to receive Medicaid, but too little to get high dollar commercial insurance.

Two years at the helm of Children’s Health Fund has helped me to better understand how high-level political and policy decision-making is manifest in the lives of children and families across America.

The mobile pediatric clinics that comprise the CHF national network serve some of the nation’s most disadvantaged children, those experiencing inadequate access to needed health services due to factors beyond their control.

These children depend on the programs currently in limbo due to congressional inertia. Young people served by our programs in Washington, D.C. and West Virginia risk losing the security of having stable health coverage. Our clinic in rural Cochise County, Ariz. will be forced to consider reducing its budget should community health center funding not be forthcoming. And our partner in Nevada is concerned about recruiting primary care providers if the National Health Service Corps is disassembled.

These scenarios will become real throughout our network if Congress fails to act soon.

There is a great deal we can do collaboratively to remove health obstacles and create more supportive pathways for kids facing formidable social and economic challenges.

But, first and foremost, we must have the political will to make the critical investments that ensure children have optimal opportunities to succeed. Investments in children’s health are proven to be the kind economic and social “hand-up” programs that pay for themselves over time. This is arguably the most important way to keep our economy growing and our nation competitive.

We cannot allow resources for children’s health care to get caught up in politics and budget battles. Let’s double down on the potential of our nation’s kids and provide the investments they need and deserve without delay.

Dennis Walto is the CEO of Children’s Health Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides health care to America's most vulnerable children.