By Rep. Al Green
An oft-repeated maxim coined by Benjamin Franklin, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," is popular because it is true.
For 16 years, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has helped us follow Benjamin Franklin's guidance by helping millions of low-income working families afford health insurance for their children. Ignoring children's healthcare needs comes at a significant cost to their families, the healthcare system and society. This cost far exceeds the expenses of administering CHIP.
CHIP was a bipartisan proposal, first passed into law in 1997 under the leadership of Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Democrat Ted Kennedy (Mass.), and reauthorized with bipartisan support since then in 2009 and again in the Affordable Care Act through Oct. 1, 2015. This important program provides health insurance coverage to low-income families who have children and earn too little to afford private insurance but too much to qualify for Medicaid. CHIP, like Medicaid, also uses private insurance plans to deliver care.
CHIP is absolutely critical to meeting the health needs of millions of our nation's children. Currently, almost 8 million children nationally are covered through this program, and nearly 600,000 in Texas. It keeps our country's next generation healthy, giving them the ability to attend school and become productive adults. No child should be sentenced to pain, misery and illness simply because their parents cannot afford needed care.
CHIP coverage is especially important to my district in Texas. The portions of Houston and North and East Harris County that I represent have some of the highest uninsured rates in the country. That is why I support CHIP, Medicaid, Medicare, and most recently, the Affordable Care Act.
These laws are indispensable to our health and incremental toward ensuring universal access to healthcare for all Americans -- and CHIP is a key part of that. As a parent and grandparent, I can only imagine how heart wrenching it must be for a parent worrying that Washington gridlock might keep their child from healthcare. Children can least afford the impact of deferred medical treatment. Diseases, if left undiagnosed or untreated, can have permanent, and sometimes, lifelong, life-altering effects.
But, it is not without its weaknesses. In the private market, if a child is insured, that insurance is almost always good for a full year. However, often CHIP administrative red tape and archaic practices lead to children being dropped from coverage for part of the year, requiring they re-enroll in order to receive the care they need. This phenomenon, known as "churn," leads to unnecessary expenses by the state, providers and hospitals -- and red tape and headaches for families. It is also a significant barrier to care, resulting in deferred medical treatment.
To address this bureaucratic barrier to care, I introduced the Ensuring Continuous Coverage under CHIP Act, and with my good friend Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), also introduced the Stabilize Medicaid and CHIP Coverage Act. These bills would ensure that a child enrolled in CHIP remains enrolled for a full 12 months. This is a common practice among private insurers, and it is just common sense that our children receive the same benefit -- and do not have bureaucracy interrupt needed healthcare.
Since day one, CHIP has been a godsend for families whose children would otherwise have no health coverage -- and would face crushing medical bills or be denied care without it. CHIP covers essential services that no child should go without, like access to physicians and mental healthcare, prescription drugs and vaccines, dentist visits, eye exams, and other basic care. It is our responsibility to take care of future generations. A child who is too sick to go to school or is unable to read the chalkboard because they need glasses is unjustly put at a disadvantage through no fault of their own.
Within the next two years, we will undoubtedly face another funding battle for CHIP, similar to the one we faced -- and overcame -- in 2009 to extend the program and increase funding. I hope my colleagues and I can come to agreement on CHIP support so we do not allow millions of working parents and their children to fall between the cracks. In the meantime, I hope we can ensure that every child is able to access quality medical care -- and the two bills I introduced will help make that a reality. The services that CHIP provides are the social and financial "ounce of prevention" that contribute to the health and success of our nation's children and generations to come.
Green represents Texas's 29th congressional district, which includes portions of north and east Houston and Harris County. Green has served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee since 1997 and currently serves on its subcommittee on health.