Bankole: Michigan kids await CHIP funding decision

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Even children, the most vulnerable population among us, are not spared by a Republican-led do-nothing Congress that has failed to act on funding for CHIP — the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program — created in 1997 to support children from low-income families that cannot afford health insurance.

The failure to reauthorize funding for the program, the latest casualty in the fight to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, could put 9 million children across the country at risk.

In Detroit, that means 6,830 children face the real danger of no health insurance coverage in 2018, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. And for the rest of Wayne County, another 13,867 children, will be left stranded if Congress does not move beyond its political bickering and address what is largely becoming a growing moral crisis.

“The program has been very helpful for my kids because when my son had surgery CHIP covered it. My daughter has respiratory issues and she has been in and out of hospital because of CHIP,” said Fri Muma, a 31-year-old mother in Dearborn Heights whose two children, 6-year-old son Tanshie and 3-year-old daughter Ngebi, have found a saving grace through CHIP.

Muma, a full-time student who works part time, says that without the CHIP assistance healthcare for her children would have been virtually impossible.

“It is a safety net because if something goes wrong with (the children) I can go to the hospital and will be attended to,” Muma said. “I don’t have large income to not only supplement myself but to afford primary care for my kids. Living without health insurance is like living dangerously.”

“With children this young, that’s a vulnerable stage to be in and when they get sick you won’t be able to sleep at night.”

Members of Congress should do more listening, she added.

“They should listen to us and our concerns because not renewing this program will affect many lives,” Muma said. “If they want to eliminate CHIP, they should give us a better option. ... It is important to remember that healthy kids make healthy communities.”

Marcie Lipsitt, a co-chair of the Michigan Alliance for Special Education, a grassroots organization that fights on behalf of children with special needs, said those kids will be especially affected if the program isn’t funded.

About 25 percent of the children in the program have special health care needs, according to the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

“Michigan children and especially those with special needs and medically fragile will suffer and be at risk for chronic and even life-threatening illnesses as parents will be unable to afford health insurance and medical care,” Lipsitt said. “I am angry while not surprised that this particular Congress has failed to take action to reauthorize CHIP.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said she is worried about the more than 100,000 children in Michigan who will be affected if the program isn’t extended.

“The state of Michigan has already sent out a notice alerting families to get their kids into a doctor as soon as possible before the funds run out,” Stabenow said in a release Monday. “Children’s lives are at stake and we need to do everything we can to ensure they have the care they need.”

Emily Schwarzkopf, policy analyst at the Lansing-based Michigan League for Public Policy, said in December that the state is running out of time.

“At this time, Michigan is expected to exhaust CHIP funding by April 2018, with redistribution funding expected to keep the program going through May 2018. That leaves Congress with only six months to save health care for 120,000 kids,” Schwarzkopf said. “Should Congress not act, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services may need to begin contacting families to inform them of potential changes to coverage.”

She said the Legislature also will need to look at how it will continue to provide insurance to “those who receive coverage through the Medicaid expansion CHIP (which they are required to continue covering) with reduced federal funding.”

“This could come by reducing provider payments, making additional General Fund investments, or increasing requirements for prior authorization,” Schwarzkopf said. “The state, however, is not required to continue coverage for those in the separate CHIP program so it is possible that those children could lose coverage altogether.”

It is not as if CHIP hasn’t been proven successful. Since its creation, it has been one of the most highly effective programs for children.

In fact, the number of uninsured children has reportedly gone down from 14 percent to less than 5 percent since the program was enacted.

To put it simply, the CHIP program has been an example of the best use of taxpayer money by yielding tangible results.

That is why Congress should act now and stop playing games with the health care of children, whose lives hang in the balance as a result of their inaction.

After all, the fight to renew the CHIP program is also about exercising morality. It is about doing what is right, believing that innocent children deserve to live in a safe environment with the security of quality care that the richest democracy on earth is capable of providing.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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