Congress has allowed the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provided low-cost health insurance to 9 million children, to expire.
If action is not taken soon to restore the funding, the effects will become obvious in schools across the country, with many of the children in the program unable to see a doctor for routine checkups, immunizations, visits when sick and other services.
The program, created under a 1997 law passed with bipartisan support during the administration of President Bill Clinton, provided coverage for children in families with low and moderate incomes as well as to pregnant women. It was instrumental in lowering the percentage of children who were uninsured from nearly 14 percent when it started to 4.5 percent in 2015. It was last reauthorized in 2015 and was due to be renewed by Sept. 30, 2017.
Amid unsuccessful efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress allowed the CHIP deadline to pass without action.
The program was primarily funded by the federal government, with states paying a good deal less. States still have some CHIP money available, but if Congress does not act quickly to restore the program, they will start to run out. Several states and the District of Columbia are expected to drain CHIP funding by the end of this year and many more by March 2018, according to this government report.
The program cost the federal government about $13.6 billion in 2016. The program provided services that included, according to the government's website:
- Routine checkups
- Doctor visits
- Dental and vision care
- Inpatient and outpatient hospital care
- Laboratory and X-ray services
- Emergency services
How much did it cost families? The website said:
"Routine 'well child' doctor and dental visits are free under CHIP. But there may be copayments for other services. Some states charge a monthly premium for CHIP coverage. The costs are different in each state, but you won't have to pay more than 5% of your family's income for the year."
That could soon change.
Dorothy R. Novick, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, recently penned a plea to Congress to save CHIP, writing in The Washington Post:
"Every day I see patients in my practice who stand to lose their health care if Congress does not act to extend CHIP funding. Consider my patient who grew up in foster care, put herself through college and now earns a living as a freelance clothing designer. She is now a mother herself, and I treat her children. Her 1-year-old son has asthma and her 3-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. They are able to follow up with me every three months and keep a ready supply of lifesaving medications because they qualify for CHIP.
"Or consider the dad with a hearing impairment whose wife passed away two years ago. He supports his teenage daughters by working as a line cook during the day and a parking attendant at night. He sends the girls to a parochial school. He lost their Medicaid when he was given extra hours at his restaurant last year. But I still see them because they qualify for CHIP."
That could change soon, too.