Guest Opinions

Congress has a chance to correct a mistake and help 36,000 Idaho kids

Supporters rallied for federal health care programs in Colorado in January.
Supporters rallied for federal health care programs in Colorado in January. AP

Americans have been frustrated by inaction in Congress for years, but this year we pediatricians reached our tipping point. Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a bipartisan policy that provides health care to over 9 million children across America, and 36,000 children in Idaho, to expire on Sept. 30. This deadline was well known, but Congress instead chose to prioritize partisanship over America’s kids.

Members of Congress have a chance to make amends for their mistake, but only if they act now.

CHIP provides health insurance for children in low-income families, giving them access to life-saving services. In Idaho, children across the state are healthier and happier because of this program. Forty-five percent of newborns in Idaho, 44 percent of children with disabilities, nearly half of all Idaho toddlers, and 100 percent of all foster children rely on this program. As pediatricians, we see children in our offices every day who couldn’t afford to be there without CHIP. Children are the most vulnerable members of society, but our government is putting their health as a low priority.

You don’t think about the challenges and costs of raising a healthy child as a parent or guardian until you face these yourself. Does your child wear glasses? Have a cavity and need to go to the dentist? Need flu shots? Break an arm on the playground? Those are all health services that are not cheap. What if your child has a chronic illness? Can you afford to pay for their insulin and frequent trips to a specialist? These are the kinds of questions that shouldn’t have to keep parents awake at night.

Because of CHIP, many Idaho families don’t have to choose between paying for these services or putting food on the table. Children in low-income families shouldn’t have to go without their glasses to help them see, inhalers to stave off asthma attacks, or trips to the doctor to help prevent illness. These impacts aren’t fleeting, they are lifelong. Studies show children enrolled in CHIP miss fewer days of school, get better grades, are more likely to graduate high school and attend college, and have higher wages as adults. Every child should have an opportunity to live up to their full potential — and now is the time to make sure they can.

Without congressional action, Idaho is at risk of running out of CHIP funding completely before the end of the year. We can’t let that happen to the children of our state. It is up to us to push Congress to protect Idaho’s children. Call and email your senators and representatives, and ask them to support a clean reauthorization of CHIP. We need the five-year extension of funding that the Senate version of the bill includes, and Congress needs to reach across the aisle and vote to protect kids. In such a partisan time, the health and well-being of our children needs to be a bipartisan issue.

This article was co-authored by pediatricians Perry Brown, Jeanie Prince, Lisa Barker, Tyler Burpee, Mark Uranga, Aaron Gardner, Leila Ford and Scott Snyder. They serve as the executive committee for the Idaho Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.