Republicans say they will only reauthorize health insurance coverage for millions of children if they, too, can get something in the process.
Barely 12 hours after passing a historically unpopular tax scam that creates a $1.4 trillion hole in the federal budget, Republicans are now refusing to reauthorize funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — at least until they can figure out a way to get something for themselves along the way.
Federal funds for CHIP, which provides health insurance to millions of low-income children and pregnant women, expired on Sep. 30. The program has historically enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. Even in the midst of partisan bickering, lawmakers have generally agreed to come together on this important issue.
But not this year.
While Republicans say they still support the idea of funding CHIP, they won't just pass a clean bill to renew funding and ensure that children don't lose access to health insurance. Instead, they want to exploit the program's popularity and use it as a vehicle to force through their own unpopular agenda items.
According to Bloomberg health policy reporter Alex Ruoff, GOP Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said Wednesday that Republicans in the Senate want to use CHIP reauthorization to pass "something else that isn't as popular as CHIP."
"If they can add something ... then leadership will take a look at that and see if they can accomplish more than just CHIP in one bill," Rounds said, according to Ruoff.
If Congress fails to renew funding for CHIP, an estimated 1.9 million children across the country stand to lose health insurance during the month of January alone, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families (CCF). An additional 1 million children could lose coverage by the end of February if Congress doesn't act.
“For years there has been bipartisan effort to get kids covered through CHIP and Medicaid. Now it is being eroded by Congressional inaction," said Joan Alker, CCF's director.
Despite Democrats' best efforts, it looks as though funding will not be renewed until the new year — by which point some state programs may have already run out of money.
Nationwide, CHIP extends low-cost health care to nearly 9 million children every year. In 20 states, pregnant women also qualify for coverage through CHIP.
The program is highly effective across the board, providing coverage for routine health care as well as serious diseases like childhood cancer. Among other achievements, CHIP is credited with helping the U.S. reach the highest rate of insured children in our nation's history. In 2016, more than 95 percent of American children had health insurance, thanks in large part to CHIP.
But now, because of the GOP's failure to act, a growing list of states have been forced to send out notices warning CHIP recipients that funds will run out as early as January, and that the program will be shut down unless action is taken.
Worst of all, instead of simply reauthorizing funding as they have in previous years, Republicans are holding health insurance for millions of children hostage until they, too, can get something out of the bill.
“It’s appalling that the anti-choice GOP chose to give tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest Americans before ensuring low-income pregnant women and children could access lifesaving healthcare," said NARAL's communications director, Kaylie Hanson Long, in a statement to Shareblue Media.
"The last thing Mitch McConnell deserves today is a pat on the back after further delaying CHIP reauthorization. Millions of children, and roughly 370,000 pregnant women, who depend on CHIP for essential healthcare were left to hang in the balance as the anti-choice GOP played politics with their lives. The hypocrisy of the ‘pro-life’ party never ceases to astound us."
Congress still has 11 days to act, but Republicans have made their priorities clear: Tax cuts are worth the rush, but the health of millions of children can wait.