Commentary: Congress Needs To Fund CHIP

Commentary: Congress Needs To Fund CHIP

Tuesday morning, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) mailed letters to 68,495 Virginia children and 1,114 pregnant women informing them their children stand to lose health coverage on Jan. 31 if Congress fails to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Congress already let it expire on Sept. 30 and needs to reauthorize this life-saving program as soon as possible.

CHIP provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, like here in the Commonwealth, CHIP covers pregnant women. Each state offers CHIP coverage, and works closely with its state Medicaid program.

Without CHIP funding, Virginia will run out of funding for its version of this program, called Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS), on Jan. 31, 2018. The letters are intended to warn families of that possibility and inform them about steps they can take now to prepare while they wait for Congress to act. Indeed, two other states, Colorado and Utah, have already notified their residents that they will soon run out of money to fund this critical program.

The agency said another letter would come in January if the program was not renewed by then, and to let them know that their benefits are currently unchanged. In the meantime, this letter is urging the families with children that need medical care to, “... make an appointment to visit your doctor or dentist before Jan. 31.”

The shameful Congressional gridlock and dysfunction have left nearly 70,000 Virginians who depend on the FAMIS program swinging in the wind. DMAS delayed sending this letter as long as possible, but it has a responsibility to these families to inform them of the possibility that their coverage could lapse so they can be as prepared as possible to explore limited alternatives.

CHIP typically has near-unanimous bipartisan support, but was neglected this year because of Congressional Republicans’ preoccupation with passing their current tax plan to redistribute our national wealth to billionaires and to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Children and pregnant mothers in Virginia and across the country depend on CHIP for life-saving care. Eliminating this program would wreak havoc on families’ health care for children should never be a political bargaining chip.

Taking care of our children’s health care is about people, not politics — but the process has become inherently political. It is not too late to ask your friends living in GOP-held congressional districts to call on their congressmen to reauthorize CHIP so Virginians and citizens across the country can have the medical certainty they deserve and need.