Congress must act to save the Children's Health Insurance Program

May 3, 2017

By Alison Buist

For two decades, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has provided affordable, comprehensive health coverage to children in low- and moderate-income working families.  You may not hear much about CHIP in California because since 2013, children eligible for CHIP in our state have been part of our Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal.  Last year the CHIP portion of Medi-Cal provided health coverage for more than 2 million children and pregnant women in California - and nationally CHIP served almost 9 million children - enabling them to access child-appropriate health care in a timely way so they can be healthy and ready to learn.  

After decades of hard work, 97 percent of California children have health coverage. However, if Congress fails to take prompt action to extend it by September 30, 2017, there will be no new funding for CHIP. The loss of CHIP would mean in California alone that more than 2 million children and pregnant women would be at risk of losing their health coverage, or having to pay substantially more for significantly less comprehensive coverage. The resulting increase in the rate of uninsured and underinsured children in our state would be an enormous step backwards. We cannot lose ground now.

Fortunately, CHIP has earned bipartisan support from its start in 1997, and remains popular with parents, the public and state and federal legislative leaders across the political spectrum.  Congress must act quickly to extend CHIP funding for at least five years and prevent children from experiencing a gap in coverage, or a total loss of coverage. Taking these actions would help provide long term stability for states like California, and give children and their families peace of mind about their continued health coverage and care.  

In seeking additional federal funding for the popular CHIP program, we must guard against Congressional leaders holding CHIP funding hostage as a bargaining chip (pun intended) for harmful changes and cuts to Medicaid or other legislative proposals harmful to children and low income adults. Make no mistake: using CHIP to cut Medicaid or pass other harmful policies is entirely unacceptable. CHIP must not become a sweetener for these poison pills.

Finally, it is important to note that Congress needs to act soon to extend CHIP funding - it cannot wait until the eleventh hour because states need certainty to start transition planning if needed, and to develop their 2018 budgets that are already well underway. California’s legislature must finalize the state’s 2018 budget by June 15 and needs to know whether federal funding to California for the CHIP portion of Medi-Cal will be forthcoming. Absent new funding from the federal government before that date, California would have to make decisions based on incomplete or incorrect information that could result in a significant budget shortfall. This is because California currently gets $.88 cents from the federal government for every $1 dollar it spends on CHIP enrollees, but if CHIP funding ends, our state would only get $.50 on the dollar, an annual loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in California alone. The clock is ticking.

Children rely on CHIP.  California relies on CHIP.  Can we rely on Congress to get it done in time?