Editorial: Save Healthcare for Children Right Now

Editorial: Save Healthcare for Children Right Now

If U.S. Senate fails to act soon, 69,000 children and pregnant women in Virginia, more than 8 million nationally, will lose health coverage.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, provides health coverage to low-income, children with family incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level in Virginia, up to $49,200 for a family of four. In Virginia, coverage under CHIP is called Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) and covers more than 69,000 children and pregnant women. More than 8.4 million children are covered nationally under CHIP.

Ironically, families with children covered under FAMIS (note that the S stands for “security”) will receive letters this week letting them know that their medical insurance security ends in January unless the U.S. Senate acts to reauthorize (fund) CHIP by the end of the year. The House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize CHIP in November, funding it mostly through cuts to programs in the Affordable Care Act.

The letter to Virginia FAMIS participants reads:

“We are sending you this letter because these people in your family are enrolled in FAMIS or FAMIS MOMS:

“FAMIS and FAMIS MOMS are paid for by state and federal funds through the Children’s Health Insurance Program known as CHIP. For 20 years CHIP has had the strong support of Congress and has been renewed many times. We are hopeful that Congress will once again provide the funding to continue this program. However, because Congress has not acted yet, we need to let you know that there is a chance the FAMIS programs may have to shut down.

“If Congress does not act soon, the FAMIS programs will end on Jan. 31, 2018.”

Having tens of thousands of uninsured children is bad health policy for every Virginian. It’s better for all children in school to have all children be able to access health care, both preventative care and care when they are sick.

According to a recent publication in the New England Journal of Medicine:

“The body of evidence summarized here indicates that coverage expansions significantly increase patients’ access to care and use of preventive care, primary care, chronic illness treatment, medications, and surgery. These increases appear to produce significant, multifaceted, and nuanced benefits to health.

“Some benefits may manifest in earlier detection of disease, some in better medication adherence and management of chronic conditions, and some in the psychological well-being born of knowing one can afford care when one gets sick. … Some of these changes will ultimately help tens of thousands of people live longer lives.

“Conversely, the data suggest that policies reducing coverage will produce significant harms to health, particularly among people with lower incomes and chronic conditions.”

Also, having health coverage leads to greater financial security, and that helps the economy. “There is abundant evidence that having health insurance improves financial security,” according to the same study.

Virginia’s U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have repeatedly called for a vote to reauthorize CHIP.

Yesterday, they said, “Today is a scary day for a lot of families in Virginia, and it was completely preventable. We asked Senator McConnell multiple times to help us support the 66,000 children and 1,100 pregnant women in Virginia who receive their health care through the CHIP program, but Republican leadership still hasn't brought it forward for a vote. There is a bipartisan bill on the table, and it’s critical that we pass it before Congress leaves for the holidays so we can give some peace of mind to Virginia parents who are worried about whether their children will have health insurance in the new year.”

We wish everyone peace of mind in the New Year.

— Mary Kimm