Nine million children in this country are at the brink of losing health coverage. What do our lawmakers say about this? Not a damn word. Why? Because they care more about themselves than our children, and our country's future. But if they won't speak up, we will.
On Saturday, Congress allowed CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, to expire. CHIP is a partnership between states and the federal government that since 1997 has extended health care to millions who would otherwise have no access to care.
As an organizer in rural Idaho in the nineties, I saw with my own eyes the difference CHIP makes in the lives of ordinary people. Thousands of children and expectant mothers in our state got access, many for the first time, to everything from checkups and healthy care to treatments for chronic asthma and cancer.
The benefits of CHIP are profound, and have a ripple effect. By ensuring adequate care, CHIP eliminates a major factor that keeps children from attending and excelling at school, and thriving in our society.
So why would Congress let a program like CHIP, which has proven its ability to make such a difference in so many lives, expire? As recently as a few weeks ago, GOP lawmakers celebrated CHIP’s achievements, swore to support it and even held it up as an example of a successful partnership between the federal government and states.
But as soon as they revived their dream of a health repeal that would gut Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act and score a legislative victory, they rushed out of the room, and abandoned CHIP. As a result, nine million lives now hang in the balance.
Some states, like Nevada, Minnesota and Utah, are already running out of funds to pay for this vital program. Dozens more will hang on through the end of the year only by cutting funds out of other essential programs to keep coverage in place.
Now, some lawmakers say they might support a temporary extension of CHIP, but only if the funds come from backdoor cuts of billions to Medicaid, the ACA and to seniors.
This is outrageous. Our health is not a zero-sum game, and shouldn’t even be up for debate: you don’t play politics with peoples’s lives.
Lawmakers must remember that the measure of our society, and how they will be judged by voters, is by how well we defend the rights of those who can least defend themselves.
Support for CHIP and other lifesaving programs should be permanent, and never become a political football. Indeed, we should – and can – extend health care to all, and ultimately, we will. But first, let’s tell our lawmakers to save CHIP now.