Reading this headline was disappointing to me, if not anticipated. On September 30, 2017, Congress let funding lapse for CHIP, the Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program. CHIP is a federally funded program which helps lower and middle-income families who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid. This program covers 9 million children across our nation. CHIP covers mostly children up to age 19. In 19 states CHIP covers pregnant women as well. Approximately 370,000 pregnant women are covered each year through the program. Families who improve their lives and move out of Medicaid have used CHIP as an affordable option to ensure health coverage for their children.
CHIP is mostly paid for by federal funds, although state funds are also used. Authorization for spending has expired, however states are still able to continue their programs temporarily, using their unspent federal funds. Unfortunately, some states anticipate running out of funding by the end of 2017.
Historically, CHIP has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats. However, funding renewal has not gotten priority from Republican leaders who have been focusing on working to replace the Affordable Care Act, and on overhauling the Medicaid program.
Since this headline was published, the Finance Committee has taken an important step toward extending funding for CHIP. Currently the program is authorized through October 1, 2019. However, further legislative action is needed in order to reauthorize funding.
When considering how many families, children and pregnant women would lose their healthcare without this program, the impact of not refunding it could be devastating. What frequently astounds me is that the people who want to cut health insurance assistance consider healthcare an unnecessary federal expense. Yet, lack of healthcare is probably exceedingly more expensive than providing the assistance in the first place.
I equate health with wealth. I see it as an incredible resource in myself, my family, my community and my nation. If people lose healthcare plans, local hospitals will be stressed, as emergency rooms fill with people who cannot pay their bills. Economically speaking, our country will bear the burden. Families will be stressed, afraid to take their children to the doctor because they cannot pay for it. Social service agencies will be overwhelmed with people needing additional services. Stress and mental health challenges will be exacerbated when communities cannot provide medical care for vulnerable individuals.
The ripple effect, a decision like defunding CHIP has will not only affect people who directly lose their healthcare plans. Economically, the disaster is clear. However, I always, also imagine the impact on our hearts. Being a cold, heartless nation that doesn’t take care of its sick children creates an emotional deficit which is difficult to bear. It has come to my attention lately that as social workers, we have a duty to protest, organize, vote, inspire, as well as change the policies and legislation that puts vulnerable and minority people and communities at risk.
An article I read by columnist Parker J. Palmer states, “In times of deep darkness we not only need light—we need to be the light for one another. There’s the light of courage to walk the path no matter who says, ‘Stop!’ No one of us can provide all the light we need. But every one of us can shed some kind of light.”