Health care for at-risk children must be a bipartisan priority

SYNDICATED COLUMNIST

Parents should not have to worry about whether their children have access to a family physician. But right now, health insurance for approximately 2,400 Hays County children is at risk, along with services for many disadvantaged mothers. Congress could have avoided this. While the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) began two decades ago as a bipartisan initiative, indifference by our current Republican leadership has allowed it to expire. History has shown that when children are not healthy, their capacity to learn weakens – we must not allow this cycle of inequality to continue. As San Marcan Suad Hooper recently told me, losing CHIP would be “a huge set back on the road to improve school readiness.” She says that delay poses “ a significant impact on many families with young children in Hays County.”

Families across Texas depend on CHIP – the Arriola family is one of many. After being diagnosed with Lupus, Laura had to leave her full-time job. Not too long afterward, the family lost health coverage when her husband lost his job. While working to overcome these setbacks, the family relies upon CHIP to insure their three children, providing them with care and peace of mind. One doctor shared with me the story of a 16-year-old with special needs on CHIP, whose father is a disabled veteran and whose mother is a home health care provider. This family sometimes struggles to even afford the $5 copay for covered services.

While Congress delays action, physicians and child health advocates have called attention on the immediate need to restore CHIP. According to pediatrician Dr. Mark Gilger, CHIP is absolutely essential for children’s hospitals to provide preventative services to children and moms-to-be. Fred Hines, CEO of a mental health treatment center for children and adolescents, says CHIP allows children access to timely treatment for mental illness, including the trauma caused by disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

State CHIP coffers are already running on empty, and they cannot be filled with empty promises that eventually, something will be done. The head of Texas CHIP expects to run out of money in about three months or less and emergency funds have already been rushed to three states. Had the State not created barriers to insuring more children legally eligible for coverage, Texas CHIP would likely be bankrupt already. Texas ranks near the bottom on covering our kids – of almost 700,000 uninsured Texan children in 2015, more than 300,000 were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

After postponing consideration of any legislation until CHIP expired on September 30, congressional leadership is attempting to pay for CHIP renewal by hiking Medicare premiums and by raiding the Affordable Care Act, which they continue to sabotage until they can completely repeal it. Medicare premiums should be used solely to strengthen Medicare, not be diverted to another purpose, however worthy.  CHIP began as a bipartisan priority, and we need to find that collaborative spirit again.

Every day that Congress fails to act on CHIP puts more children at risk. We should not permit millions of children to be kicked off  coverage specially designed for their needs.

I hope others will join in being a voice for the littlest voices.

Doggett represents Congressional District 35, which includes Hays County.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666