Partison battle over CHIP is shameful

Of all the bargaining chips called into play by congressional Republicans and Democrats over budget differences, the worst and most inexcusable is health coverage for kids.

The all-but-depleted Children’s Health Insurance Program was brought back from insolvency last month when the House and Senate passed a short-term budget resolution to keep the government operating, and keep CHIP going for two or three more months.

Why the stop-gap fix? Why not a five-year reauthorization?

CHIP is the rare federal health program that enjoys bipartisan support in Congress. It provides assistance — doctor’s appointments, immunizations, care for life-threatening illnesses — for children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid, yet can’t afford private insurance. Working families trying to survive.

In Pennsylvania, a family of four earning up to $51,000 can get free CHIP coverage for kids. A four-member family making up to $77,244 is eligible for partially subsidized insurance.

The program covers almost 9 million children — about 180,000 in Pennsylvania — as well as prenatal care for 370,000 women nationally. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states on CHIP life-support, plugging on only because Congress has allowed them to tap unused funds earmarked for other states.

Authorization for CHIP funding ran out Sept. 30. Congress’ continuing budget solution, approved last week in time for members to get home for the holidays, frees up $2.85 billion for three more months. Even with the extension, some states could see their CHIP funding run dry before then.

The goal is a five-year authorization, with a reliable funding source. The callousness of congressional Republicans and President Trump slashing tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, while tossing a few scraps to the poor and middle class, is doubly disrespectful to families uncertain of continued CHIP coverage.

Democrats and Republicans have differences over funding for CHIP, even as they agree on the need for it. The GOP isn’t about to approve a stable financing source unless it can extract more blood from Affordable Care Act programs. Democrats won’t go along with that.

The Republican-controlled House did pass a five-year reauthorization in November, along with two years of funding for community health centers.

The bill contained bitter medicine for Democrats, wiping out an Affordable Care Act disease prevention fund that provides $1 billion a year to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bill is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate, where Republicans have to muster 60 votes for passage.

Democrats and Republicans will always disagree on budgets, but the rationalizations must cease when it comes to health care for working-class kids and their siblings-to-be in the womb.

If millionaires are deserving of huge tax cuts, people on the other end deserve some help to keep their kids healthy.

Majority Republicans will live with this shame and the consequences if they can’t find common ground for a long-term CHIP fix, as the calendar flips to 2018.