11 days and counting: Why hasn't Congress renewed health insurance program for 9 million children?

Friday, 13 October 2017, 04:49:41 PM. Congress still hasn't taken up renewal of the Children's Health Insurance Program. Kids' health must not be a big priority.

We know that Congress is just unimaginably busy right now, so perhaps it’s understandable that 11 days after funding for a crucial children’s healthcare program expired, the lawmakers still haven’t gotten around to restoring it.

We’re talking about the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a state-federal program serving 9 million children and their mothers. We reported earlier, as the Sept. 30 deadline for federal reauthorization of CHIP was closing in, that delay was placing state programs in dire jeopardy.

There’s still no schedule for a vote on CHIP in either chamber on Capitol Hill.

What has Congress and the Trump administration been tied up with, while CHIP renewal has languished?

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 1 Michael Hiltzik

Advocates for children’s health started worrying months ago that congressional incompetence would jeopardize the nation’s one indisputable healthcare success — the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has reduced the uninsured rate among kids to 5% from 14% over the two decades of its existence.

...

Advocates for children’s health started worrying months ago that congressional incompetence would jeopardize the nation’s one indisputable healthcare success — the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has reduced the uninsured rate among kids to 5% from 14% over the two decades of its existence.

... (Michael Hiltzik)

Let’s see. There was the tax cut proposal, mooted on Sept. 27, and discussed endlessly since, even though the drafters didn’t bother to fill in a multitude of blanks covering who gets the tax cuts and who gets hammered. (Spoiler alert: The rich get almost all the tax breaks, and everyone else gets shortchanged.) That has sucked up a lot of congressional mind share.

Over at the White House, President Trump has been fuming over the collapse of the Senate’s Obamacare repeal bill and about the National Football League players’ taking a knee during the national anthem. That who-cares issue prompted Vice President Mike Pence to take time out of his busy weekend to fly halfway across the country for a symbolic show of support for the flag, so he could fly halfway back across the country immediately for a California fundraiser. Pence’s theatrics cost taxpayers nearly $250,000.

Meanwhile, Trump spent his time picking fights with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and NBC. He also stopped in Puerto Rico, where he praised his performance in disaster relief without apparently noticing that half the island still is without power or water. The Washington press corps kept its eye on whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” and if so, what variety of moron.

CHIP was enacted in 1997 with bipartisan support, which it has continued to enjoy more or less since. So nothing should have interfered with its reauthorization. What did, as we reported, was the Senate’s preoccupation in the last week of September with one more fruitless attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. By the time that measure was dead and buried, there was no room left to enact a CHIP measure that already had been agreed on by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of CHIP’s original sponsors, and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The House was poised to vote on a CHIP reauthorization this week but put it off because Democrats complained about terms inserted by the GOP, which included taking money from a public health fund under the Affordable Care Act.

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 2 Kaiser Family Foundation The Children's Health Insurance Program has brought healthcare to millions of kids. Why was it so hard for Congress to make sure its funding was secure? The Children's Health Insurance Program has brought healthcare to millions of kids. Why was it so hard for Congress to make sure its funding was secure? (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Congress may be sanguine about renewing CHIP because most states have enough in their budgets to continue the program until the end of the year or the first quarter of 2018. But some are on the brink. They include Utah — Hatch’s home — which warned legislators that it would have to start rolling up its program almost as soon as the deadline passed without a vote.

Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper warned the state’s Washington delegation that its money would run out virtually on deadline day, and followed that up with a public warning that on Oct. 1, the state would have to start taking “extraordinary measures” to keep the program moving along, even if on one cylinder. Among other steps, she said, “pregnant women covered by the program [will] be cut off altogether, losing coverage for prenatal and postpartum care.”

Few other states can rest easy. The longer Congress dithers, the more uncertain every state program becomes. CHIP operates with long-term planning, and without assurances that the funding will appear eventually, services will be pared back, professional contracts canceled and enrollments slashed.

It should go without saying too that the longer Congress dithers, the greater the chances that some other priority will elbow CHIP out of the way, as the remaining legislative days dwindle. Between now and the end of the year, Congress will be taking three weeks off for holidays; the Senate also will take a knee on four of the remaining 12 Fridays and eight of the remaining Mondays. The House will be in session for only four more Fridays and four Mondays. Think of that the next time a federal politician tells people they need to work harder.

Somewhere in its busy schedule Congress surely can find the time for a routine reauthorization of health insurance for sick children and mothers. In video game terms, this is a move with the lowest difficulty level one can imagine. What does it say that Congress can’t get even that much done?

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 3 CAPTION

Drone footage reveals the devastation wrought by the deadly Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa. An astounding number of women have shared stories of alleged sexual misconduct by producer Harvey Weinstein. A USC administrator has left his post in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues. President Trump has nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, a top aide to Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Credits: Associated Press, Travis Geske, Getty, KTLA

Drone footage reveals the devastation wrought by the deadly Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa. An astounding number of women have shared stories of alleged sexual misconduct by producer Harvey Weinstein. A USC administrator has left his post in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues. President Trump has nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, a top aide to Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Credits: Associated Press, Travis Geske, Getty, KTLA

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 4 CAPTION

Drone footage reveals the devastation wrought by the deadly Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa. An astounding number of women have shared stories of alleged sexual misconduct by producer Harvey Weinstein. A USC administrator has left his post in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues. President Trump has nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, a top aide to Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Credits: Associated Press, Travis Geske, Getty, KTLA

Drone footage reveals the devastation wrought by the deadly Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa. An astounding number of women have shared stories of alleged sexual misconduct by producer Harvey Weinstein. A USC administrator has left his post in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues. President Trump has nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, a top aide to Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Credits: Associated Press, Travis Geske, Getty, KTLA

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 5 CAPTION

Over 160,000 acres have been destroyed in northern California fires.

Over 160,000 acres have been destroyed in northern California fires.

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 6 CAPTION

The death toll from the Northern California fires has reached 17. A wounded Mandalay Bay security guard warned hotel officials about a gunman before the Las Vegas massacre. Harvey Weinstein is facing more sexual assault and harassment allegations. The FBI’s investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball continues to expand. 

The death toll from the Northern California fires has reached 17. A wounded Mandalay Bay security guard warned hotel officials about a gunman before the Las Vegas massacre. Harvey Weinstein is facing more sexual assault and harassment allegations. The FBI’s investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball continues to expand. 

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 7 CAPTION

A Northern California firestorm is one of the worst in state history, officials say. The Dodgers are heading to the NLCS after beating the Diamondbacks Monday night. Police have dramatically changed their account of how the Las Vegas massacre began. The Los Angeles Times has named a new editor in chief. 

A Northern California firestorm is one of the worst in state history, officials say. The Dodgers are heading to the NLCS after beating the Diamondbacks Monday night. Police have dramatically changed their account of how the Las Vegas massacre began. The Los Angeles Times has named a new editor in chief. 

11-days-and-counting-why-hasn-and-apos;t-congress-renewed-health-insurance-program-for-9-million-children photo 8 CAPTION

A wind-fed wildfire surged over the Anaheim Hills on Monday, burning several homes and forcing thousands to evacuate as fire crews struggled to battle the rapidly growing blaze.

A wind-fed wildfire surged over the Anaheim Hills on Monday, burning several homes and forcing thousands to evacuate as fire crews struggled to battle the rapidly growing blaze.

Keep up to date with Michael Hiltzik. Follow @hiltzikm on Twitter, see his Facebook page, or email michael.hiltzik@latimes.com.

Return to Michael Hiltzik's blog.

    Share this
    Article 11 days and counting: Why hasn't Congress renewed health insurance program for 9 million children? compiled by www.latimes.com