By Amanda Litvinov
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It has been two months since the Republican-led Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expire.
Soon, millions of children will begin losing health care coverage, schools will be forced to curtail health-related services, and states will struggle with impossible choices, such as slashing funding for education in order to extend health coverage for lower-income kids—all because of federal lawmakers’ inaction.
Eventually, as many as 9 million children are at risk of losing health care unless Congress approves federal funding for CHIP, which provides health coverage for kids from lower-income families that do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.
Because many states use federal CHIP dollars to provide school-based services, making it easier to reach eligible children, the program is widely regarded as an efficient way to improve health and educational outcomes for more kids.
Educators are bracing for the hit their schools will take when CHIP funding dries up.
“Our students all have different challenges,” said Karen Slade, a teacher’s assistant at Southern Alamance High School in Graham, North Carolina. “Some of those challenges are physical, and some are cognitive. They might require occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, medications or feedings, or a device that enables communication,” she said.
“For some students, school is the only place that they’re going to see the specialists they need,” said Slade, who has worked in public schools for nearly 20 years.
Slade’s students will be some of the first to face the cuts; North Carolina expects to run out of CHIP funding before the end of this month.
Arizona, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia will also likely exhaust CHIP funding before the end of the year. Maryland, Texas, and Virginia are expected to run out of federal funds by early 2018.
There are warning flares going up across the country that the consequences will be immediate if Congress does not act soon to fund CHIP:
- Minnesota and Oregon have said they will use state money, as long as possible, to maintain CHIP programs rather than leave tens of thousands of kids uninsured. Other states might follow suit. But that imperils other parts of state budgets, and may lead to education cuts that also directly affect students.
- West Virginia’s CHIP Board recently voted to shut down its CHIP program by February 28, 2018, if Congress does not renew funding by then.
- Utah has submitted a request to the federal government to freeze their CHIP enrollment. Nevada law triggers an automatic enrollment freeze when federal CHIP funding is reduced.
- Colorado has already sent letters to families that CHIP coverage could be cancelled in January 2018 if CHIP funds are not reauthorized. The states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Texas are preparing to send similar letters notifying families that their CHIP coverage might end soon and families will be left to try to find coverage they can afford.
Unless CHIP is renewed, schools will lose the funding they rely on to provide critical services to improve student health and development. More than half of the 9 million children served by CHIP are eligible for services provided in their schools through state Medicaid programs.
Prior to the beginning of each academic year, school districts commit to the necessary staff and contracted services—for example, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, occupational therapists, school nurses, and mental health professionals.
Educators are frustrated that the well-regarded bipartisan CHIP program—which has reduced the number of uninsured children by nearly 68% to a record low of 4.5%, and in collaboration with Medicaid helps to cover nearly 40% of all children in the U.S.—has fallen by the wayside.
“For children across our nation, having access to quality, affordable health care is tantamount to their success in school, and our success as a country,” said Lily Eskelsen García, a Utah educator and president of the National Education Association, which represents nearly 3 million educators.
“Congress needs to come together quickly, as they have many times before, to reauthorize the CHIP program. Ensuring that our children have health insurance is something on which Democrats and Republicans should agree,” García said.
Karen Slade is troubled to think that Congress’ inaction will mean that some of the students she works with could lose health coverage and school-based services, or that her state will have to cut other programs, including education, to make up for the lost federal funding.
“We can’t deny our students the right to the best possible education that we can provide, and for some that means helping them meet health-related challenges,” said Slade.
“We must do everything we can to help these kids gain the life skills they’re going to need.”