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Reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program: The Time Is Now
The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides health coverage to over 7 million low-income children in working families whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but still lack health coverage. Since its creation in 1997, it has been a popular, successful program, credited with helping to reduce the uninsured rate among children by almost a third – even as uninsured rates for adults increased steadily.
Efforts to reauthorize the program in 2007 were nearly successful; Congress passed two similar CHIP reauthorization bills with bipartisan support, and public support for the program and its reauthorization has been consistently strong. However, President Bush vetoed both of those bills, and the program has since been operating under a temporary extension which expires March 31, 2009. It is critical, particularly given the nation’s economic crisis, that the 111th Congress take swift action to reauthorize the program and fortify this essential safety net for low-income children.
Health insurance matters for children.
- Children with health insurance are more likely to have a usual source of health care, to have seen a doctor in the previous year, and to have their health care needs met than their uninsured counterparts.
- When children get the health care they need, they are better equipped to do well and school because they can do things like attend school regularly, see the chalkboard, hear the teacher, and participate in classroom and recess activities—all essential parts of succeeding in school.
8.6 million children are uninsured, and the number is growing.
- The most recent data from the Census Bureau found that 8.6 million children are uninsured, and these data were collected before the economic downturn took hold in 2008.
- As unemployment continues to rise and fewer families can afford health coverage, more children are likely to need coverage. For every one percent increase in the unemployment rate, an additional 600,000 children become eligible for Medicaid and CHIP.
CHIP could cover nearly two-thirds of these children, but only if it is reauthorized.
- Over 60 percent of uninsured children have incomes below twice the poverty level, making them eligible for Medicaid or CHIP in most states.
- However, given the unprecedented budget shortfalls facing many states, CHIP has been and will continue to be on the chopping block for state cuts until state policymakers know that federal funding for CHIP is stable and adequate to meet the growing demand. The longer reauthorization is delayed, the more likely states are to make harmful cuts that could increase the number of uninsured children.