December 07, 2017

Congress Can’t Find Money For Children’s Healthcare

They’ve been promising since April but time is running out and there’s still no sign of funding

by Chris Thomas

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The Children’s Health Insurance Program — or CHIP — provides health insurance to 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women. It’s enjoyed near continuous and uncontroversial funding since it was instituted in 1997. Or it did, until the 115th Congress came to town.

Now, nearly a year into the 115th, CHIP is unfunded and there are no signs or signals to suggest that Congress will pick it up this year.

What’s the hold-up? To quote Senator Orrin Hatch, who recently championed adding a trillion-and-a-half dollars to the deficit to finance a corporate tax cut, “we don’t have any money anymore.” By comparison, CHIP cost the taxpayers $13.6 billion in 2016. A year of funding for CHIP represents less than 1% of what Hatch and other Senate Republicans are comfortable borrowing to support corporate tax cuts.

But to fund CHIP, Republicans are demanding “offsets” — cuts in other spending or new sources of revenue to cover the cost and Democrats are balking at deep cuts to ACA funding and other public health programs the GOP is demanding as a price for funding the program.

Kick the Can

But with an impending government shutdown looming over Washington, CHIP may have a short-term reprieve from its long-term problems. The December 8th continuing budget resolution, though still just a draft, contains language which would finance the program for the states closest to exhausting their ability to pay for the program.

Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) pledged that the stop-gap funding will lead to stability for CHIP but Democrats are skeptical; Republicans may just be kicking the can down the road. Nita Lowey (D-NY) told the AP “ I am eager to know what Republican leadership believes they can accomplish in the next two weeks that they haven’t been able to accomplish in the last two months.” Colorado Gov John Hickenlooper joined her frustration: “To be honest, no one has explained to me why (it hasn’t been renewed). We know there’s the votes in the Senate, and we know there’s the votes in the House. But it is not coming out of committee.”

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