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Children’s Health Groups: CHIP Isn't a Bargaining Chip

About 20,000 Utah children depend on the CHIP program for medical coverage, but its federal funding could run out in March. (Children's Action Alliance)
About 20,000 Utah children depend on the CHIP program for medical coverage, but its federal funding could run out in March. (Children's Action Alliance)
January 22, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY — Groups that advocate for children's health are pleading with Congress to stop using the Children's Health Insurance Program as a bargaining chip in the showdown over funding the government.

About 20,000 Utah children depend on it. The federal government shut down at midnight on Friday, after Senate Democrats rejected a continuing resolution to fund the government and CHIP, holding out for a deal to protect undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Stacy Stanford, health policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project, said there is bipartisan support for a standalone, 10-year CHIP funding bill.

"It doesn't even need to be a part of this discussion at all,” Stanford said. “It could be passed on its own, and it could have been done a long time ago."

For many years, CHIP has been renewed on a regular basis with little controversy. Funding expired September 30, but GOP leadership in Congress has refused to hold a vote on a long-term funding deal for CHIP, instead passing temporary funding - which is projected to run out in Utah in March.

On Friday, Republican leaders offered a 6-year deal on CHIP to try to attract Democratic votes for the bill to fund the government, a gambit that failed. Stanford said she's tired of seeing children's health coverage used as a political football.

"This isn't a new dilemma. This is something that could have been dealt with in Congress months ago,” she said. “But it's been kicked down the road, and has now become just part of a political game."

CHIP primarily serves the children of the working poor - families who make a bit too much to qualify for Medicaid but don't get insurance through their jobs, and can't afford to buy a policy on the open market. Nationwide, some 9 million children and pregnant women are covered by CHIP.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - UT