There’s a tendency, whenever Congress isn’t doing what we personally would like it to do, to say that the honorables have their priorities mixed up.
But when it comes to funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides medical care for about 9 million children through Medicaid and other programs, we can say without fear of hyperbole that Congress indeed has its priorities messed up.
In the race to come up with a tax cut plan that lards gifts primarily on corporations and the wealthy, Congress is dragging its feet on renewing funding for a program that benefits the most vulnerable among us.
CHIP provides health coverage for 8.9 million children whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford insurance. The program is administered by the individual states, several of which are now on the verge of running out of money. That’s because the current round of funding for the program, which costs $16 billion a year, expired Sept. 30 and Congress hasn’t gotten around to passing an extension.
Some senators and House members have given lip service to renewing it, but nothing has happened yet.
Among the states hardest hit is Minnesota, which ran out of CHIP money last month and is keeping it going with state money. Oregon and Colorado will be the next to run out.
Lawmakers from both parties say they intend to pass an extension. But some Republicans want to tie it to an Obamacare repeal or other issues. Failing that, they warn, an extension for CHIP might have to wait until early 2018.
The United States already trails many other western countries when it comes to children’s health. Infant mortality rates are as much as 42 percent higher in the U.S. than in comparable developed countries. Early neo-natal deaths are as much as 66 percent higher, according to the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. And among 17 developed countries, a 2013 study found that American children are more at risk of dying before age 5 than children elsewhere.
Clearly, we’ve failed our children too many times in too many ways. Dragging out or, even worse, abandoning CHIP funding is just the latest example. It’s an especially egregious oversight in this season of celebrating the birth of a child who changed the world.
It’s not too late, and it’s the perfect season, for Congress to change course and put CHIP funding, and our children, at the top of the list of year-end priorities.