“If I could sit down for freedom, you can stand up for children.”
–Mrs. Rosa Parks, honorary co-chair, 1996 Stand for Children rally
On June 1, 1996 the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) convened with over three thousand co-sponsoring organizations, including the NAACP and many others in the civil rights community, the largest rally for children in our nation’s history. Over 200,000 parents, grandparents, child advocates, religious leaders, and others of every race, age, faith, and discipline from all walks of life gathered together at the Lincoln Memorial to Stand for Children™. Mrs. Parks, honorary co-chair with Rosie O’Donnell, provided an iconic statement that still holds true today as Black children are sliding backwards and child poverty levels are indefensible in our wealthy nation. In 1997 she and Rosie O’Donnell co-chaired the follow-up local Stand for Healthy Children Day. Over 700 local events took place across the country supporting health coverage for all children including 30,000 people who gathered in New York City’s Central Park.
CDF, a range of Black community leaders including the NAACP, and children’s advocates have long recognized that health affects every aspect of a child’s life—the ability to grow, learn, play, and succeed—and fought hard to expand access to comprehensive, affordable health coverage that is easy to get and to keep in order to help level the playing field for children and close the opportunity gap. In 1997, one in seven children in the United States lacked health coverage. The 1996 and 1997 rallies provided the grassroots push that helped lead to the bipartisan passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Introduced and championed by Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch in a Trent Lott-controlled Republican Senate, President Bill Clinton signed CHIP into law in August 1997.
For 17 years CHIP has been there, giving working families the security of knowing their children had access to quality, appropriate coverage they could afford. Since CHIP’s creation the rate of uninsured children has been cut in half and is now at a record low, while improving health outcomes and access to care. The popular federal-state partnership is now a lifeline for more than 8 million children in low and lower middle income working families. CHIP and Medicaid provide critical health coverage for more than 1 in 3 children in our country and in 2012 covered 54 percent of Black children. Even in the post Affordable Care Act (ACA) world CHIP remains a critical piece in the foundation of health coverage options for children. But despite this great progress and CHIP’s success, it faces a very real threat right now: if Congress doesn’t take action, there will be no new funding for CHIP after September 30, 2015 and millions of children and families will suffer the consequences.
Next September may seem like a long way off—especially in this “crisis Congress” that’s developed a reputation for acting in the 11th hour or not at all. But in this case we’re talking about the possibility of children actually losing ground. States are already planning their budgets for the 2016 fiscal year and need to know if they can continue providing children coverage. That sort of decision can’t wait until next year. So please join us in urging Congress to take action now in 2014 when they return to Washington for the lame duck legislative session. Ask Congress to extend funding now for CHIP for four more years. We must not allow children to lose ground.
If funding for CHIP isn’t extended:
- Millions of children could become uninsured. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that as many as 2 million children enrolled in CHIP could become uninsured if CHIP funding is not extended. Unfortunately, many children now covered by CHIP wouldn’t be eligible for subsidies to purchase health coverage in the new health insurance marketplaces because of the Department of Treasury’s interpretation of “affordability” of coverage, which would leave health coverage financially out of reach for many families. Congress and/or the Administration should act quickly to fix this problem which is sometimes known as the “family glitch.”
- Millions more children will pay more but get less comprehensive coverage in the new health insurance marketplaces. CHIP goes further than most commercial health plans to cover the range of services children need to reach important developmental milestones, especially pediatric hearing and vision, mental health, and habilitative services and devices. Because states have recognized cost can be a major barrier to accessing needed services, they have made CHIP very affordable for families. Several recent studies have compared health plans available in the marketplaces to CHIP coverage and clearly shown CHIP to be substantially more affordable, with significantly lower premiums and cost sharing, while offering more comprehensive child-appropriate benefits.
- Children may not have access to the child health providers they need. CHIP provider networks were specifically designed to provide access to child-appropriate providers, pediatric facilities, and specialists to ensure children receive medically and developmentally appropriate care. But current federal provider network requirements for health plans in the marketplaces don’t ensure children the same access to the full spectrum of primary and specialty providers they need.
- Without new CHIP funds, states will lose significant federal health care dollars. Estimates suggest the states stand to lose between $9.6 and $10.1 billion in fiscal year 2016 alone if CHIP funding is not extended.
Congress must not play politics with the health of millions of our children. In an election year when it sometimes seems as if Congress is doing less legislating than ever, making sure children get access to the health coverage they need to survive and thrive should be something they—and we—can all agree on and get done now. Seventeen years later CHIP has helped put a generation of children on a path to healthy adulthood. Let’s put CHIP on the same path.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.