My Turn: The importance of reauthorizing CHIP

For the Monitor
Monday, December 04, 2017

Republicans are talking incessantly about the need to “fix” the Affordable Care Act by the end of 2017. The ACA was coined “Obamacare” as a fallacious argument covering for a right-wing conservative agenda to hide changes to redistribution of health care costs. Most of those involved in the passage of the ACA and the public remember that the ACA was passed after considerable negotiation.

While the GOP is trying to keep you focused on pushing their agenda, there is real imminent danger if the Child Health Insurance Program expires. Millions of children and pregnant women could lose their health care. CHIP is a federal and state program that currently covers about 9 million children and pregnant women who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose income is below the federal poverty line. If CHIP isn’t reauthorized, 10 states will run out of money, including Utah, the home state of Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate committee for the CHIP program. If CHIP expires at the end of 2017, five states will be forced to whittle down their program and 21 more states are likely to run out money in the first quarter of 2018.

Some states, like New Hampshire, cover these people through Medicaid expansion, but there is a sunset provision that will end that program, if not extended, in December 2018. If Medicaid expansion is not extended in 2018, about 50,000 Granite Staters who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level will lose their health care at the end of 2018.

In New Hampshire, we are fortunate that Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Annie Kuster are talking about what would happen if CHIP isn’t reauthorized. Enhanced federal matches ended on July 1 and failure to reauthorize CHIP would further downshift costs to the state. Without CHIP, children and pregnant women would suffer from short-term and long-term health care instability.

According to the Kaiser Foundation, the CHIP program has been successful in reducing uninsured rates for children to a historical low of 5 percent and non-elderly, most likely pregnant women, to 12 percent. Historically, when enrollment in CHIP was capped or frozen, parents reported that they had difficulty obtaining prescription medicines for their children and reported problems accessing medical care for their children, which resulted in significant financial hardships that required them to cut back on necessities, borrow money from friends or family and acquire debt for missed bill payments.

Several controversial attempts to reauthorize CHIP have stalled progress. These include last-minute attempts to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill and entangling it with disaster relief to Puerto Rico. As time goes on, the possibility of a child health care crisis grows, yet elected officials are generally not talking about it. Elected officials have to reach across the aisle and engage people like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to reauthorize CHIP before children go without needed medical care. Constituents need to engage their elected officials and let them know that CHIP must be reauthorized and not undermined.

(Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye serves Rockingham District 24 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and is a congressional candidate in the First District.)