This post originally appeared as an Op-Ed in The Courier Journal. You can view it online here.
As the November election nears, effective, bipartisan action in Congress can sometimes feel like a lofty and unattainable ideal. Political ads remind us several times a day of the divide amongst political parties. Yet, we have a strong example of a bipartisan policy that has been effective at delivering quality health insurance to children in the way states see fit — the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP was created 17 years ago by a Republican-controlled Congress and Democratic president, and the program remains very popular among voters, including Democrats, Republicans and the tea party.
CHIP receives support across the aisle because it works. Kentucky’s version of CHIP (KCHIP), along with Medicaid, has helped dramatically lower the number of children throughout the state without health insurance. In fact, since KCHIP was implemented, the number of uninsured children has been cut in half. Additionally, KCHIP and Medicaid have protected children from the impacts of the recession, even as Kentucky families struggle with the economic recovery. The number of uninsured children dropped from nearly 70,000 children in 2008 at the beginning of the recession to less than 60,000 in 2013.
According to the Kentucky Department for Medicaid Services, about 66,000 children are covered each month under KCHIP. Kentucky also has one of the lowest uninsured rates for children in the nation (5.9 percent, American Community Survey, 2013), providing evidence that KCHIP is effectively making a difference in the lives of Kentucky children.
KCHIP provides affordable health insurance for children with working parents who are struggling to make ends meet. Parents pay co-pays for things like prescription medication, but the co-pays are reasonable for families with limited income. With KCHIP, parents do not have to worry that a sick child might push the family into bankruptcy.
KCHIP also represents an affordable program for the state budget. Children often cost less to treat, since they tend to be healthier overall and experience fewer health conditions. In addition, by covering well-child exams and addressing the specific health needs of children, KCHIP can help prevent long-term health problems among kids.
Another advantage of CHIP is that states can tailor the program to meet the specific needs of the state. That means Kentucky has flexibility, including setting KCHIP eligibility levels, determining the process for enrollment and renewals, and customizing education and outreach efforts. It is a win for kids who can get health care when they are sick and a win for states who can customize a program that is best for their population.
Funding for CHIP will end in September 2015 without congressional action. But Congress needs to act now. Not only do kids depend on CHIP, but our state, hospitals and providers need to plan ahead to make sure official agreements and contracts are in place with the private insurance companies who provide KCHIP coverage to prevent gaps in coverage. And those agreements don’t run on Washington’s schedule. Congressional delay undermines contracts with companies who administer KCHIP and, in turn, can hurt the relationships those companies have with pediatricians, hospitals and other providers. That puts children’s health care at risk.
Kentucky members of the federal delegation can address this problem. Will they put partisan politics aside and take action this year to continue funding health insurance that works for Kentucky kids?
Ask Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is a part of Senate leadership, and Congressmen Guthrie, Whitfield and Yarmuth, who serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, for their answers to that question.
And ask all candidates for federal office in the upcoming election how they plan to make children’s health a priority and continue to support policies that work for kids’ health. Kentucky children need bipartisan leadership that recognizes what voters know — CHIP works and we need to support it.