More and more states are running out of money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Congress is to blame. It’s critically important for Congress to provide money before children lose health care and coverage. But the program, known as CHIP, which insures nearly 9 million children, took a back seat last month as lawmakers raced to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut. CHIP’s fate then got caught up in a messy fight over an end-of-the-year deal on spending with government facing a shutdown on Dec. 22. Linda Nablo, the Chief Deputy Director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, made this observation:

CHIP is being used as a pawn in larger debates and negotiations. It has fallen victim to the dysfunction and partisanship in Congress. And we are getting very close to the point where some children will also be victims.

Congress did pass needed legislation to keep the government operating. Congress has known since April 2015 that funds for the popular children’s insurance program – created and sustained for two decades with bipartisan support – would expire this year at the end of September. The Senate Finance Committee approved a five-year extension of funding for the program in early October, but did not specify how to pay for it.

Interestingly, Republicans insist that it must be paid for. I wonder what they were thinking when they added more than a trillion dollars to our national debt last month. The House passed a bill to provide five years of funds in early November, but those funds would come from public health programs set up under the Affordable Care Act and an increase in premiums for affluent Medicare beneficiaries, provisions that should be unacceptable.

Members of Congress should act promptly, do the right thing and invest in our nation’s true future, invest in the children, and save children’s lives. Funding for the program should be made available and not just for a short term.

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 16 states expect to exhaust their federal CHIP funds by the end of January, with 21 additional states saying they would run out by the end of March. The Trump administration has reshuffled money to help states with the most urgent needs. But in so doing, it exacerbates the financial problems that other states will soon face because Congress has not provided any new funds. Republican governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, have joined Democrats in urgent appeals to Congress with little success.

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