The GOP Has Officially Engineered a Children’s Health-Care Crisis

Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty Images

On September 30, federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired. Congressional Republicans claimed that they didn’t want this to happen — they just got so caught up with trying to repeal Obamacare (a.k.a. trying to take health care away from millions of adults) that they forgot to preserve access to basic medical care for 9 million low-income children. Regardless, the public had no need to worry: States had enough money to keep CHIP running for the rest of the year, and Republicans would reauthorize the program with all due haste.

Nearly two months later, congressional Republicans are so caught up with trying to cut taxes on corporations (while taking health care away from millions of adults), they haven’t quite found time to renew CHIP.

In at least 11 states, funds allocated for CHIP will run out by January’s end. A majority of states will be bereft of funds for the program by April. But throughout the country, the program is already in a state of crisis.

On Monday, working-class families in Colorado received letters encouraging them to look into private insurance options, as their children could soon be tossed off government health care. Several other states will send out similar letters this week.

These missives won’t just be a short-term worry for working families who already have more than enough worries — they also threaten to undermine CHIP in the long-term. As The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey wrote last week:

If states were to start to send their letters to parents—Nablo said Virginia is just days away from that point—the policy implications would be significant, health analysts have warned. Parents might find themselves confused by the program and less trusting in its soundness. Kids might never sign up, or might drop out. “It’s not something you can easily turn on and off,” [Robin Rudowitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation] said. “You could put in a cap. But the education and notices to beneficiaries—even if there is no cap, that reeducation can take a long time, and maybe doesn’t reach everybody.”

Meanwhile, states are already wasting money and personnel hours on contingency plans for CHIP’s demise. Some have stopped pushing eligible families to sign up for the program, a development that could lead to many more low-income children going without coverage, even if the program gets reauthorized in December: If states don’t spend time and money spreading awareness of the program, many parents will fail to take advantage of it.

And it’s far from certain that CHIP will get funded next month. While congressional Republicans have voted to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, so as to pay for corporate tax cuts, they have refused to appropriate the $75 billion required to reauthorize CHIP for five years. Instead, they insist on financing children’s health care with cuts to other people’s medical benefits. House Republicans have already passed a bill that that raises money for CHIP by throwing an estimated 700,000 people off of Obamacare, for falling behind on their premium payments. That legislation has (predictably) stalled in the Senate. Democrats, for their part, have evinced little interest in transferring a few billion dollars from low-income adults to low-income children, while Republicans are transferring trillions of dollars to the wealthiest people in America.

It’s worth noting that CHIP is vastly more popular than the GOP’s health-care and tax bills — even among Republican voters. The program ensures that families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid — but don’t receive insurance through their employers — won’t go bankrupt if their children get sick. Over two decades in operation, CHIP has slashed the uninsured rate for American children by more than half, while improving their educational outcomes and fortifying their families’ economic security. Crucially, Republicans aren’t ideologically bound to deny these results; CHIP is the one part of the safety net that their party is supposed to like: It’s cheap, targeted at children with working parents, and the legislation that created it is covered in Republican fingerprints.

But none of this seems to matter. At the end of the day, the GOP believes that it’s more urgent to deliver tax cuts to corporate America than to guarantee health care to working-class children. And so Colorado parents will just have to wait and worry, while Republicans work to give Charles and David Koch what they paid for.

The GOP Has Engineered a Children’s Health-Care Crisis