Congress derails healthcare for children

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By: Connor McNairn, Columnist 

Last week, the GOP once again failed to repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. (Editor’s note: Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy pushed to pass the Graham-Cassidy healthcare legislation, but they ultimately failed to secure the 50 Senate votes necessary to pass the bill before the legislation was even able to make its way to the Senate floor.) As Twitter users, late night hosts, political pundits and everyday citizens rallied key Graham-Cassidy opponents like Republican Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Rand Paul, another major healthcare program – one that has enjoyed bipartisan support since its creation – slowly faded into the background.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was created in 1997.The program aims to provide children’s health insurance for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid benefits. CHIP coverage fluctuates from state to state, as each state maintains relative autonomy in designing and implementing eligibility requirements (within certain federal guidelines). Throughout its 20-year existence, CHIP has reduced the children’s uninsured rate from 14 percent to just five percent. What is more, CHIP has also provided benefits for pregnant women. Overall, CHIP provides quality health insurance to over 9 million low-income families throughout the U.S. – its benefits are many.

Congress is tasked with reauthorizing the CHIP program when funding runs out; and since the program’s inception, our legislature has been up to the task. This Saturday, however, CHIP funding ran out. Amid the chaos surrounding the Graham-Cassidy proposal, Congress failed to refund the insurance program.  

The CHIP program is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS). One would expect the HHS to actively pursue the reauthorization of a program that insures 9 million children and pregnant women. Then again, one would also expect the secretary of the HHS to use taxpayer charter flights responsibly.

On Friday, Tom Price, the former Georgia congressman and secretary of the HHS, resigned. In recent months, Price had used private and government aircraft to travel on “business” (Price also visited luxury resorts). Rather than use less expensive commercial airlines, Price opted to travel with military and private airlines which have ultimately cost taxpayers over $1 million since May. In summary, rather than prioritizing health insurance accessibility for children, Price was more concerned with leisure travel.  

Though ripping Price is justifiable, we must refocus our energies on a polarized, GOP-led Congress who succeeds at just about nothing. Although Senators Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden introduced a bill that would extend funding for the CHIP program in mid-September, the rest of Congress remained preoccupied with the Graham-Cassidy hysteria. Further, following the failure of the GOP healthcare bill, Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell have shifted their focus from repealing the ACA to passing tax reform. While millions of low-income families are left wondering how they are going to afford immunizations, check-ups, prescriptions, dental care and more, the Republicans in Congress (save for Hatch) are obsessed with reducing taxes for America’s richest citizens.  

Even though funding for CHIP has officially run out, states have reserve funding for the program that rolls over from previous fiscal years. Unfortunately, this reserve is likely not significant enough to keep the program alive for long, as Congress has made no significant effort to reauthorize the CHIP program.  

The nation expressed outrage over Graham and Cassidy’s effort to repeal the ACA. The national opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill illustrates the value of American political participation. It is my most sincere hope that all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, unite to motivate action from Congress and preserve a program that has significantly benefited those who need it most.

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