This week I introduced a bill to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2019. Without an extension, CHIP funding will expire on September 30, 2015, leaving millions of underserved children and pregnant women at risk of losing access to the specific care, services and networks that CHIP provides.
Since its creation in 1997, and its reauthorization in 2009, CHIP has been a lifeline for millions of children and pregnant women. Today, CHIP provides eight million children – including 37,000 in our state – access to coverage and the specific care they need. But if CHIP expires, these millions of children and pregnant women could be left without anything. This cannot happen.
Beyond providing access to health care coverage and essential health services, CHIP has also made great progress in reducing the number of uninsured children in our country, and has been hugely successful in West Virginia. Almost two decades ago, when I worked with my colleagues to create CHIP, nearly one-fourth of the nation’s children did not have health care. Today, less than 10 percent of children are uninsured. Of course, with any of our kids going without care, it is essential that CHIP continue and be able to build on its success of enrolling uninsured kids and giving them access to the care they need.
Passing the CHIP Extension Act would make sure that CHIP continues for four more years and maintain some of the program’s most successful provisions. The legislation would also allow states to create programs that serve the specific needs of children; enhance coverage for pregnant women and oral health services; and provide access to health care for foster children and newborns. All of these provisions build on CHIP’s original goal of making sure every child has a healthy start in life.
Nearly 50 years ago, I became a passionate advocate for expanding access to health care coverage after my time in Emmons as a Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) worker. I met kids who’d never been to a doctor or a dentist because their families could not afford health insurance. I have never forgotten the concern I had for those children and how I wanted to help them. And still today, few things during my time in public service have been more important to me than improving access to health care for all children.
One of the best ways to guarantee that all children can access coverage and care is to extend CHIP, and that’s why I’m doing all I can to protect and improve this crucial program. No child should have to go without seeing a doctor or a dentist because their family has no way to access affordable health care services. Early access to health and dental care gives children the foundation they need for a healthy future. I can think of no better gift this Father’s Day weekend than to ensure that all children get the best shot possible at a healthy, secure life.
This column previously appeared in the Logan Banner, West Virgina.