Sharon Carte: CHIP needs to be a priority
In the midst of America’s rancorous debate about how to pay for increasingly costly health care, one bright spot is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). With both strong bipartisan approval and overwhelmingly popular support, CHIP has proven to be an effective and efficient program protecting the health of children.
After the enactment of CHIP and later additional coverage options available through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the rate of uninsured children fell significantly. In 1997 nearly one out of every 10 kids had no source of health coverage. After CHIP, the numbers of uninsured children dropped from 7.6 million in 1997 to 3.6 million in 2016, a cut of more than half of all uninsured.
This steady progress was threatened when Congress did not act to continue funding for the program for six months past the Oct. 1, 2017 deadline. Many states, including West Virginia, had to consider what to do about the program in the absence of federal funds. Fortunately, Congress acted at the 11th hour and CHIP was extended for an additional eight years until 2024.
A new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families (CCF), however, suggests that children may now face a more insidious erosion of hard-won gains. The CCF reports that progress has stalled and may be about to reverse.
After steady cuts to the rate of uninsured children, the numbers of uninsured children are now rising for the first time in decades. The CCF report shows rates have risen from 4.7 percent in 2016 to 5 percent in 2017. The number of kids this represents is about 276,000. More disturbing, this comes at a strong time for the country economically. The CCF report shows there was some gain in the portion of kids covered through employers, but clearly not enough to counter a downward turn.
The report documents why some parts of the country have higher rates of uninsured children than others.
States that did not expand Medicaid in 2017 have significantly higher rates of uninsured kids on average (7 percent) than do states with an expansion (3.7 percent). Those with the highest uninsured rates in 2017 are: Texas, 10.7 percent; Alaska, 9.6 percent; Oklahoma, 8.1 percent; North Dakota, 8 percent; and Georgia, 7.5 percent — all states with no Medicaid expansion.
Even in West Virginia, where we achieved one of the highest insured rates for children in the nation, the uninsured rate climbed from 2016 to 2017 from 2.3 percent to 2.6 percent, or 4,000 kids.
The CCF report serves to make us all mindful and watchful, at both federal and state levels. We cannot take progress on children’s health care as a given. Does this increase in uninsured children turn out to be a hesitation in progress or the beginning of a downward trend? We should all be ready to assure an increasing uninsured children’s rate does not become a new normal.
Working for a law to assure coverage of all children would be a worthy activity as we enter the next presidential election cycle.