In their abortive last-ditch effort to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (and gut Medicaid in the process) before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, Senate Republicans didn’t get around to reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program. For 20 years, CHIP has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and still might if GOP lawmakers can stop turning every health care issue into an argument about Obamacare.
Meanwhile, Americans who want to buy Affordable Care Act policies for next year are looking at much higher premiums because of uncertainty in Washington. This will wind up costing the government more for higher tax subsidies.
Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., reached agreement on a $15 billion CHIP reauthorization measure in mid-September. But then the Graham-Cassidy health care bill began dominating debate, as did Obamacare repeal-and-replace bills before it. The GOP couldn’t find 50 votes for Graham-Cassidy and it never came to the floor. By then it was Sept. 30, the fiscal year was ending and CHIP was left to expire.
Luckily most states will be able to cover the cost of the program for a few more months, giving the Senate and House a reprieve. They should seize it. CHIP has been an unalloyed success. The uninsured rate among children from working poor families has dropped from 14.5 percent to 5 percent since 1997. Nine million kids get free basic medical care like checkups and immunizations as well as coverage for hospitalization, chronic diseases and accidents. Parents, even those who may not have insurance themselves, can take their kids to the doctor when they need to.
Why would you want to mess with that? Even Republicans who don’t think health insurance is a right for adults have been willing to extend it to kids.
But now House Republicans are messing with the Hatch-Wyden agreement by trying to fund the CHIP program with cuts to Obamacare. They can’t seem to help themselves.
Congress should pass a straightforward CHIP reauthorization. Then both parties should line up behind the bipartisan effort by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., to shore up Obamacare’s precarious insurance markets. Market uncertainty is causing insurers to raise rates by as much as 40 percent. President Donald Trump’s continuing threats to stop making cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers who cover low-income Americans also are destabilizing markets.
With the ACA enrollment period for 2018 set to begin Nov. 1, it’s vital that Congress fix the problem its members and Trump did so much to create. Repeal-and-replace was a failure. Now it’s time to fix-and-stabilize.
Americans have grown to like Obamacare. And they sure don’t want 9 million American kids to fall through the GOP’s cracks of indifference and incompetence.
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, another Lee Enterprises publication, Oct. 10.
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