If the Children’s Health Insurance Program is reauthorized, it will be proof that Congress still has a soul.
In today’s political climate, it’s difficult to use the words “Congress” and “common ground” in the same sentence while keeping a straight face.
In our nation’s capital and in towns across America, we’ve never been more at odds with each other — socially, economically, politically. Even for two seasoned commentators, who spent years fiercely debating each other’s opposing political views on political chat shows (and even on a tour of college campuses when it was safe to do so), what we’re seeing today — pure, unbridled ferocity in many instances — is an entirely new ballgame.
Are torch-wielding white supremacists “very fine people?” Are all hard-working, dedicated journalists purveyors of “fake news?” The very fact that Americans are even entertaining these notions shows how far we have strayed from ideals that we once universally respected as the obvious truth.
At a time when we can’t seem to agree on anything, it seems that much stranger to remember there are certain issues that have always brought the left and right together, and that cannot be allowed to fall victim to our current politically chaotic state.
Chief among them: Healthcare for our nation’s children. Although the fiery debate about healthcare and entitlement programs has raged for years — and will certainly continue — as a compassionate society, our leaders have always stood behind funding healthcare for the most vulnerable Americans — our children.
What has become a traditional bipartisan effort to guard the health of innocent kids began 20 years ago with passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which, together with state Medicaid programs, provides low-cost or free health insurance to low-income children. If politics makes strange bedfellows, then legislation like CHIP is proof of it in action. Across the aisle, Congress has worked together without incident to reauthorize the program three separate times since it was enacted as part of the Balanced Budget Act in 1997.
It’s really a no-brainer for lawmakers, since CHIP is sacred to state and local governments nationwide. It’s also desperately needed in communities where low-income children would otherwise go without essential care. Most importantly, it’s a program that works.
Today, almost 9 million children are insured through CHIP — allowing them access to preventative healthcare services like well-child visits, immunizations, eye exams and dental check-ups. Together, CHIP and Medicaid provide health insurance coverage to 39% of our nation’s children (including those living with disabilities) and has helped reduce the number of uninsured by 68 percent over two decades.
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This kind of ready availability to primary and preventative care means that children have a usual source of care, are healthier, and have fewer costly emergency room visits. Studies have found that racial and ethnic healthcare disparities largely disappear when kids have healthcare coverage through CHIP.
It’s difficult to argue about the benefits of a program that keeps young Americans healthy. Economically, it’s also easy to support. Because kids are generally healthy, providing them coverage doesn’t cost much and, frankly, makes good sense. In fact, the federal government spends about $15 billion each year on CHIP — an amount that pales in comparison to the $588 billion spent on Medicare.
With CHIP set to expire at the end of September, Congress needs to act now in order to once again reauthorize the program. And even though we don’t expect them to agree upon anything else anytime soon, history has shown their ability to come to the table with relative ease to work together for the good of our nation’s kids.
Congress, it’s time to set aside your weapons in this case and honor that traditional common ground that has been so utterly elusive recently. Not only will it be good for your souls, but CHIP — and our children — are simply worth the effort.
Linda Chavez is an author and nationally syndicated columnist. She was the highest-ranking woman in former president Ronald Reagan’s White House, and the first Latina ever nominated to the United States Cabinet. Julianne Malveaux is an MIT-educated economist, author, social and political commentator and businesswoman. She served as the 15th President of Bennett College for Women — a historically black college in Greensboro, N.C.
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Children’s health care is more important than partisan squabbles