Children’s health should never be a bargaining chip

On Sept. 30, Congress missed a deadline to reauthorize funding for the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for the first time in nearly two decades. CHIP is a program for working families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but still cannot afford private insurance. It provides essential health insurance benefits, including doctor visits, prescriptions and dental care, to 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women across the country. Studies show that enrollment in CHIP improves children’s health outcomes, reduces rates of child and early adulthood mortality, improves school performance and increases levels of college attainment and future wages.

CHIP has worked wonders for Pennsylvania’s children: Almost 350,000 were enrolled in CHIP-funded programs in 2016, ranking it fifth among all states and helping to reduce Pennsylvania’s uninsured rate among children to below 4 percent.

Congress’s lack of leadership on this issue puts the well-being of hundreds of thousands of children across Pennsylvania, and millions across the United States, at risk. Last Monday, Colorado became the first state to send out letters to CHIP-enrolled families telling them that their children’s health insurance will soon expire, while five other states have already received more than $200 million in emergency funding to keep their programs going. Unless Congress acts soon, Pennsylvania’s CHIP reserves will dry up in late February. Sixty-two percent of Americans believe that reauthorizing CHIP should be a top priority; only 28 percent believe that for tax reform.

So, why have U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson and the Republican Congress failed to lead on behalf of Pennsylvania families? The answer is simple: They refuse to extend CHIP without making draconian cuts in other areas essential to public health. Don’t believe me? Look at the bill Glenn voted for and applauded, H.R. 3922, which does just that. It knocks 500,000 Americans off of the Affordable Care Act rolls and drastically reduces investments in public health projects that, for example, combat lead poisoning, youth suicide, and diabetes.

Republicans, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, claim that these cuts must be made because “we don’t have money anymore.” But remember that he and Glenn just voted for a bill that cuts $6 trillion in taxes for corporations and the wealthy funded by raising taxes on most middle-class families and adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit. CHIP’s annual cost? Only $14 billion.

This is a disgrace. It is time that Glenn Thompson stops using the health and lives of Pennsylvania children as political pawns to advance the Republican agenda of cutting spending on services so they can help pay for the tax cuts they just gave to their wealthy friends. He needs to step up and take the common sense and bipartisan steps that every prior Congress has taken to protect CHIP.

I am running for Congress because our district deserves better. It is time that we step up, together, and reject a system that looks at our families as pawns rather than the people who it is supposed to answer to.

Marc Friedenberg is a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in the Fifth Congressional District.