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Reauthorizing the children’s health program is a fiscally smart decision

As Congress sprints to the finish line to get home in time to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, the best holiday gift my former colleagues can give American children would be to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

CHIP provides comprehensive health-care coverage to approximately 9 million children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who cannot access or afford commercial health insurance. This wildly popular program was created in 1997 when Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) reached across the aisle and worked together; it continues to enjoy strong, bipartisan support in Washington as well as state houses across the country.

{mosads}Like many fiscal conservatives, I am of a mind to regard no program as sacred, not even this one. At a time when this country has amassed debt equal to our national GDP — something we haven’t done since the end of World War II — it is reasonable to ask if we can afford to continue to pay for this level of care. Compassion for our children should include concern about the impact our national debt will have on our children and grandchildren.

However, some things are so important and provide such value that I support pulling out the credit card and spending the money. If I were still serving in Congress today, I would be urging my fellow conservatives to do the fiscally prudent thing and vote in favor of extending the CHIP program.

I do so, not just as a licensed physician deeply  interested in the welfare of children, but also as a fiscal conservative who sees CHIP reauthorization as something that is in the best, long-term social and economic interest of our country. Here are two reasons why.

First, CHIP already operates under conservative principles because it gives governors and states more control with flexibility and choice. While CHIP is not financed as a block grant, it does give states considerable flexibility to run and design their own programs, adapting them to local needs and governing priorities.  

My home state’s version, PeachCare,  provides more than 124,000 Georgia children with primary, preventive, specialist, dental care and vision care and is a cherished and admired program. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, 49 percent of Georgia children are in low-income families. It is in partly due to programs like PeachCare that the percentage of American children who are uninsured is now at an all-time low.

Second, if Congress fails to act, the infants, children and teens enrolled in CHIP will receive cancellation notices. This will frighten, confuse and discourage the most vulnerable in our population from receiving health care. And if we allow CHIP to languish, it would not only be cold-hearted. It would be imprudent.

One of our our goals as conservatives is for impoverished children to grow up healthy and, ideally, gain the ability to rise out of poverty and experience greater economic security. When we think about the physical and fiscal health of our country, we must plan for the long-term. By taking care of children’s health now, we ensure healthier and more productive adults — future citizens who will hold jobs, pay taxes, defend our nation and be able to raise healthy children of their own.  

If anything, I would recommend fellow conservatives “plus-up” the CHIP budget if they can find non-health care related savings elsewhere. That’s a fiscally sound proposition, whether you wear green eyeshades or a medical headlamp.

Philip Gingrey, M.D. is a former U.S. Congressman who served Georgia’s 11th congressional district from 2003 to 2015. He is currently a senior adviser with the District Policy Group at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

Tags children's health Children’s Health Insurance Program CHIP Health care Orrin Hatch

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