9 Million Children Could Lose Insurance Because Congress Was Too Busy Trying To Repeal ACA

by Chris Tognotti
Allison Shelley/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Throughout months and months of legislative wrangling and presidential haranguing, the Republican Party fought tooth and nail to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and replace it with an alternative health care bill of their own design. But amid all the tumult and laser-like focus that demanded, there's now a hugely important, urgent deadline creeping up on Saturday, Sept. 30 ― namely, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is about the expire, a development which would be devastating to countless families who rely on it.

While a reauthorization bill for CHIP already exists ― a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon ― it was introduced just days prior to the rollout of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. Consequently, at a time when the senate could have been working on an eleventh-hour deal to re-up funding for CHIP, the GOP's attention was diverted to yet another Obamacare repeal effort. And now, with just one day remaining before Sept. 30, time is running short.

The CHIP program was first launched in 1997, a half-measure response to the fact that former president Bill Clinton's attempt at comprehensive health care reform has failed during his first term. Co-sponsored by Democratic senator Ted Kennedy and Republican senator Orrin Hatch ― and with the backing of first lady Hillary Clinton, who unsuccessfully spearheaded the administration's ill-fated 1993 health care push ― the CHIP program devotes about $14 billion in federal funds per year to insuring approximately nine million children throughout the United States.

It's a particularly vital program for low-income families, providing a basic and crucial safety net. And yet, the program is set to expire on Saturday, and there's no indication the Republican-led Senate will get the votes together in time to extend it.

Reports suggest that even if CHIP expires this week, most states will have enough funding to continue the program on a short-term basis. But ultimately, its ongoing health and stability depends entirely on it getting renewed ― according to The New Republic, Minnesota would be out of cash for CHIP by the end of October, and ten other states would run out of funds by the end of 2017.

According to ThinkProgress, CHIP would likely run dry in 32 more states by March 2018, meaning the projected outer-limit for the program really collapsing nationwide amounts to about six months. Needless to say, the most populous states have the biggest demand ― as California senator Dianne Feinstein noted in calling for CHIP's reauthorization on Friday, CHIP gives health insurance to approximately 800,000 kids in the Golden State.

In short, it's a looming and absolutely urgent situation, one that's gotten overshadowed by the every-couple-months obsession with trying to push an Obamacare replacement bill through the Senate. Despite the fact that American politics have become hyper-polarized in recent years ― as evidenced by the man sitting in the Oval Office, among other things ― public support for the program remains broad and bipartisan.

A full 92 percent of Americans consider it either "extremely important," "very important," or "somewhat important," according to a recent poll by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Of that 92 percent, 76 percent deemed reauthorizing funding for CHIP either an "extremely" or "very" important priority. By contrast, a mere six percent of those polled believed ensuring future funding for CHIP was "not important."

Although presidential budgets are most often seen as wish lists and statements of priority in the modern era, and and almost reflexively shot down by Congress, the proposal Trump released earlier this year included considerable, controversial cuts to CHIP.

Namely, Trump's proposed budget would have slashed funding for children's health insurance by at least 20 percent, in addition to heavy cuts to Medicaid, something he both promised not to do during his presidential campaign, and which would have a damaging effect on the health of children and low-income families. Fortunately, that was nothing but a pie in the sky proposal, and it was never seriously taken up or considered by the House or Senate. But if nothing else, it made it clear that the White House will not be as staunch a defender of the program as the previous two Democratic administrations were.