Dr. Emily Riegel
For the past 10 months, the country has watched as our elected officials have attempted, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, to gut the benefits provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Despite their backhanded tactics, sneaky actions, and tunnel-vision focus on delivering mortal wounds to the ACA, they failed. They failed because they were held accountable by the Americans who demanded that their access to healthcare coverage be protected.
Now, as if in a petty game of retribution, lawmakers are striking back by stalling the much-needed approval to guarantee funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP is the federal funding program that guarantees quality health coverage for more than eight million children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private health coverage.
CHIP, in effect now for over 20 years, has been among a handful of success stories of bipartisanship – that oft-dreamed of, rarely seen political unicorn that appears when both political parties agree to set aside their differences and unite behind a cause so important that their raw humanity compels them to do the right thing.
Apparently, we are no longer in the age when “doing the right thing” matters in politics. We have moved beyond the time when the health and lives of children in this country were seen as a commodity valuable enough to support through programs like CHIP. Now, our children and their access to healthcare- healthcare that not only treats them when they are sick or injured, but healthcare that helps keep them healthy and safe- are being used as a pawn in the game of what can only be called a revenge plot.
Revenge against whom?
Against the Democratic Party for not wavering in their defense of the ACA?
Against the holdout Republican Senators like Collins, Murkowski, and McCain who didn’t tow the party line?
Or is it against the constituents: the people who wrote, called, demonstrated, visited, and continued to demand that their ACA benefits be protected?
What the GOP is now doing is effectively holding children hostage, taunting, “look what we’ve got now.”
Meanwhile, as this political gamesmanship unfolds, there are actual lives hanging in the balance. Unless Congress votes on continuation of CHIP funding within the coming days, we know that 3 states and the District of Columbia will run out of money to fund their CHIP programs by the end of 2017. An additional 27 states-including Kansas and Missouri- will see funding go dry by March of 2018.
So what does this mean here at home? In Kansas, over 77,000 children will be affected. In Missouri, over 78,000 will be affected. Nationally, nearly 8.4 MILLION children could lose insurance coverage, and with the health insurance marketplace being destabilized by the attacks on the ACA, many of these children may remain uninsured for an unknown period of time.
CHIP and the ACA have allowed our children to be healthier: providing coverage for their well child checks, immunizations, routine dental care. These are measures that help make sure kids are sick less, that kids feel better, that they are able to avoid the kinds of illnesses and health risks that could have significant, even life-threatening, consequences. It also ensures that children who do face a serious illness or injury, the kind no family can prepare for, and that little can often be done to prevent, are able to receive the kind of medical care and treatment that gives them the best chance of recovery and survival; and it helps do this without the risk of bankrupting or financially devastating their families.
Why would any politician stand in the way of this kind of program?
Why would any political party argue against its importance?
Why would any lawmaker with a conscience put children’s lives at risk?
And what have we come to that these are questions we must actually try to answer?
We have been through this for 10 months, and we have resisted the attack on health care at every turn. We aren’t finished yet, it seems. If Congress is going to keep doing what it has been doing, then so will we. If they think we are going to get tired and quit paying attention, they have grossly miscalculated their constituents and what we will do to protect and advocate for every child in this country.
Make your calls, make those office visits, hold your signs up high, stand shoulder to shoulder: do your part and do not quit.
Our children are watching. Let’s make them proud.