We’re surprised because CHIP has always been, and continues to be, a bipartisan success story. It’s a federal-state insurance program that extends coverage to low-income kids not eligible for Medicaid. Kids between roughly 138 percent to 300 percent of the federal poverty line qualify, so the program directly benefits working families.

Nearly 9 million children across the country are enrolled in the program; over 21,000 kids are enrolled in West Virginia. If you haven’t heard of CHIP, it’s probably because it’s been so universally popular and non-controversial over the last 20 years that it rarely gets media attention.

This is why we’re also ashamed that — either because of higher priorities or partisan politics — Congress has put passing CHIP’s reauthorization on the back burner for so long that states are literally running out of money and making plans to close their programs.

A few states like Arizona and Oregon have been shored up with emergency funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to keep their programs afloat, but there’s not enough reserve funding for all states facing impending shutdown. As we write this, Colorado officials plan to pen letters to CHIP families before Thanksgiving, notifying them that their coverage could be cancelled by the end of January.

Here at home, the West Virginia CHIP Program’s Board of Directors voted earlier this month to shut our state program down at the end of February if Congress doesn’t allocate funding.

We’re not sure it’s even necessary to elaborate on the value of CHIP itself, because we’ve heard no dissenting voices against the program. Irrefutably, the creation of CHIP in 1997 has resulted in fewer children uninsured. At a time when health care costs are ballooning, CHIP keeps health care affordable for working families.

In West Virginia, our program insures up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line. We’re one of around 10 states that cover this high of a percentage. We’re also one of 12 states that receives a 100 percent match for the program.

From a state perspective, at a time when both the state and families are struggling financially, the CHIP program is incredibly important. A significant number of kids in our dwindling population are fully insured, and the federal government, not the state, is paying for these health care services.

Last year, over 48,000 kids were at one time covered by CHIP. For many of them, the program covered annual well-child checkups and other doctor visits, but for some, health insurance covered life or death emergencies, or medications or services.

CHIP covers peace of mind for families, so they don’t have to worry that they’re living just one emergency or diagnosis away from bankruptcy. Especially those of us who buy our insurance from the marketplace know that our premiums are about to rise significantly. Georgia has reported an expected 57 percent rise in premiums. Florida reported 45 percent.

Premiums are also going up for those insured by the Public Health Insurance Agency (PEIA) as well. Imagine if we had to push these CHIP kids into either the marketplace or PEIA’s program, and what it would cost these affected families.

The National Governors Association sent a letter to Congress, recommending a five-year reauthorization, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a host of many health advocacy groups. In fact, both the House and Senate bills include a five-year reauthorization in them as well.

But these bills aren’t moving. The House’s Healthy Kids’ Act, saddled with a number of non-CHIP related, partisan hot-button issues, will probably not be taken up by the Senate. The Senate’s bill hasn’t moved in weeks.

There’s talk that CHIP will be taken up in late December as part of a much larger funding bill that will probably include more partisan issues that will bog the bill down in more political mire. And if we wind up with further delays, state CHIP programs will begin closing, one by one.

To avoid closing programs, as well as provoking further concerns and fear, Congress must make kids’ health a priority. It’s time to act on CHIP. Senators Manchin and Capito, please talk to your constituents who rely on CHIP. We feel confident that if you knew how it could potentially devastate even one family, you’d do what needs to be done to get it passed.

 Candice Hamilton is executive director of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Kelli Caseman is director of child health for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.