Trimmel Gomes, Florida News Service
As a program to improve health-insurance access for children celebrates its silver anniversary, there are calls to ensure it remains strong for the future.
Friday is the 25th anniversary of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, created by Congress to cover millions of young people who might not otherwise have health care coverage.
Alison Yager, executive director of the Florida Health Justice Project, said program dollars to extend Medicaid eligibility have made significant reductions in the uninsured. For instance, in 2008 the uninsured child rate was 17.3%, and dropped to 7.6% in 2019 under the state’s federally-backed program called Florida KidCare.
“Basic services like doctor and dentist visits, and immunizations, prescription medications, hospital visits,” Yager outlined. “CHIP has been a lifeline for working families in Florida who aren’t offered or can’t afford health insurance on their own.”
Since the program began, the rate of uninsured children in the U.S. has dropped nearly 10 percentage points. In January, nearly 2.8 million Florida children were enrolled in KidCare.
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, thinks Congress should permanently reauthorize the program, to build on the progress it has made.
“A few times over the 25 years, CHIP has become a little bit of a political football, and we’ve seen some instances where we’ve had lapses in the program,” Alker pointed out. “We know that CHIP works, and having Congress move to make it permanent would be great.”
Yager noted changes to the Public Charge Rule under the Trump administration caused concern for immigrant families, but she added the Biden administration reversed the changes, putting things back to the way it used to be for decades.
“The bottom line is accessing public health coverage does not impact immigration status,” Yager explained. “It’s really important that we do more to let immigrant families know to sign your kids up if they’re eligible; don’t hesitate to enroll your kids.”
The public health emergency is set to expire Oct. 13, but it could be extended, as it has been several other times. During the federal Public Health Emergency, states received more funding for Medicaid and were not allowed to drop people from Medicaid coverage. Yager urged lawmakers to make the provisions permanent.