Column: We can’t let children’s health insurance fall through the cracks

By Barbara L’Italien

October 6, 2017

At the beginning of this year, I filed a piece of legislation I hoped would never be necessary.

Senate Bill 647, An Act ensuring continued health insurance coverage for children (and its House counterpart, H.598) makes sure that thousands of children in Massachusetts who currently get health insurance from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will not lose their health insurance in the event that the federal government stops funding the program.

Unfortunately, that worst-case scenario has come to pass: at the end of September, Congress failed to reauthorize CHIP, leaving millions of American children – including 160,000 right here in Massachusetts – set to lose their healthcare coverage. Without Congressional or state action these children in Massachusetts will be out of luck come the spring. In ordinary times this would be a major news story, but these are not ordinary times.

CHIP is a federal-state partnership that provides health insurance for children in low- and moderate-income families who are not eligible for Medicaid. The CHIP insurance package is specifically designed to meet the health needs of children and young adults. Alternative health insurance is more expensive and provides fewer services that children need, causing disruptions in coverage and care. Kids with chronic conditions are especially vulnerable to health insurance changes, as they often rely on specialists and medications that may not be covered if they switch plans.

To be clear: this federal funding was not cut, but rather, left to run out. It’s not too late for Congress to reauthorize CHIP, and if it acts fast, no child in America will face disruption in coverage. It is disappointing and disheartening that so many children and youth would go without preventive screenings, dental care, immunizations, behavioral health and other important services simply due to Congressional inaction on a historically bipartisan issue.

I urge Congress to work quickly to reauthorize CHIP. Protecting vulnerable children should be at the center of our government’s functions. Regardless of action (or lack thereof) on the federal level, S.647/H.598 guarantees that Massachusetts may continue to prove itself as a leader on healthcare issues, reaffirm its commitment to providing healthcare coverage for vulnerable populations, and ensure no disruption in coverage for 160,000 children.

This session, the Massachusetts Senate has been focused on putting “kids first.” Providing healthcare for those in the lowest income brackets is key to investing in our future generations. Keeping our kids healthy and safe is essential for their success in life. Let’s not allow these unusual times to distract us from our moral obligations. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature to pass these bills and uphold our responsibility toward our Commonwealth’s youngest members.