Two years ago, if you’d described a political party so cruel that it would prioritize a massive tax cut for the rich over funding a program that provides healthcare coverage to millions of children, I would’ve pictured members of the Ruling Class from The Hunger Games. But now, in 2018, the Republican Party fits that description, and it’s clear that the party’s cruelty and immorality really has no limits.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a federally funded health insurance program that provides health insurance coverage to almost 9 million children (according to the most recent available count in 2016) whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but don’t make enough to afford insurance in the private market. Passed in 1997, CHIP was a historically non-controversial, bipartisan piece of legislation, created by Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy in partnership with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and with support from then-First-Lady Hillary Clinton. States have the freedom to determine who qualifies for CHIP coverage in their state, and in 2009, CHIP was expanded to give them the option to cover pregnant women and lawfully-residing pregnant immigrants and children. There is also no waiting period or annual enrollment window; you can apply for CHIP at any time to receive healthcare coverage for your child. In an interview with NPR last December, Timothy McBride, a professor of health economics at Washington University stated, “CHIP is probably one of the most successful government programs we’ve enacted in the last couple of decades.”
It costs the federal government about $14.5 billion a year to pay for CHIP, but this funding expired on September 30, 2017, and has yet to be re-approved by Congress due to some pretty terrible decisions by the Republican Party. Last month, the GOP decided to ram through a tax bill that will give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and skyrocket the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In short, the Republican Party decimated the federal government’s income, and, because of that, now doesn’t want to spend money on vital government services like CHIP.
Without confirmed funding for 2018 and beyond, CHIP is in peril. On December 21, Congress passed what’s called a budget stopgap — a partial spending bill meant to postpone the big budget battle until January 19, 2018. In the stopgap bill, CHIP was funded just $2.85 billion, less than 20 percent of what it costs to make sure kids can keep their healthcare for the year. This funding only covers the program through March 2018 – not even close to the full funding Republicans originally promised.
Now parents of CHIP children are panicking, unsure of if, or when, their child’s healthcare coverage will run out. To add insult, the GOP’s tax bill included a repeal of the Affordable Care Act mandate – the part that required every individual to get insurance or face a financial penalty. The mandate lowered insurance premiums by getting more healthy people (who have lower healthcare costs) into the marketplace, and without it, economists and healthcare executives predict that premiums will rise, pricing many families out of healthcare. If CHIP is also unavailable, there will be literally no affordable option for millions of children.