In Our View: CHIP Not a Handout

Insuring children’s health an investment in our future and the right thing to do

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About 9 million children in the United States are losing health insurance because Republicans in Congress have declined to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The program, founded with bipartisan support in 1997 and routinely renewed ever since, was allowed to lapse Sept. 30, and states are running out of leftover funds they have been using to keep the program afloat. In Washington, that means about 60,000 children will be losing their insurance early next year because their families do not qualify for Medicaid and are unable to afford private coverage.

In case it was unclear that this is an appalling statement of national priorities and does little to make America great, we bring you a recent quote from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: “The reason CHIP’s having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore.” Hatch then advocated for and helped pass a tax bill that independent analysis says will add more than $1 trillion to the national deficit and will disproportionately benefit corporations and the wealthy.

Hatch and fellow Republicans are financing a tax cut for the wealthy with deficit spending, but they cannot be bothered to fund the health care for 9 million children from low-income families. In October, while declaring “Child Health Day,” President Trump said, “How we treat our young people is a fundamental test of who we are as a society.” There is much truth in that statement; now Republicans should act like they believe it.

When the Children’s Health Insurance Program was enacted 20 years ago, the uninsured rate for American children was 13.9 percent; now it is less than 5 percent, making the program one of the success stories of this country’s health care system. The federal share of the CHIP program is about $14 billion, but Hatch said: “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”

This is a sad and misguided commentary that, unfortunately, is reflected in Republicans’ approach to the tax code. Plans passed by the House and the Senate — which now must be reconciled in one bill — manage to find huge breaks for the wealthy but provide little relief for the middle class or low-income families. The Senate even included “permanent” tax reductions for corporations while temporary tax reductions for individuals are phased out in a couple years. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, voted in favor of the House bill.

Most who benefit from the Children’s Health Insurance Program are more than willing to lift a finger to help themselves and their children. In fact, they are willing to do a lot more. They are the ones who are working two jobs to make ends meet, are attending night classes to improve their skills, and are working to raise their families. They are the ones who are chasing an American Dream that Republicans keep making less attainable.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program should not be viewed as a handout; it should be viewed as an investment. Providing health care for children helps prevent afflictions and habits that can linger for a lifetime and result in even greater costs down the road. Improved health care also has been linked to improved academic performance.

Congress is trying to come up with a budget plan by Friday to avoid a partial shutdown of the federal government. Funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program should be near the top of the priority list.