Guest Opinions

Put Idaho’s children first this Christmas by funding CHIP

By Katie Apple

A Colorado girl demonstrates for health care in January.
A Colorado girl demonstrates for health care in January. AP

As Christmas approaches many families in Idaho who rely on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for affordable, comprehensive healthcare for their children are worrying about whether that coverage will continue in 2018. In spite of having every opportunity to reauthorize this bipartisan program, Congress has prioritized tax breaks for the wealthy and put CHIP at the back of the line. Over 22,000 children in Idaho currently rely on CHIP for health coverage and Idaho’s members of Congress need to act now to renew funding for this critical program.

As the senior director of business operations for St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, I know first-hand what access to quality healthcare means to Idaho kids. Every day, our team saves children’s lives. Imagine that your own child was sick and you couldn’t afford to seek the care necessary to identify and treat their illness. Health coverage provides critical access to preventive care and developmental screening which leads to early diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions, from asthma to cancer. Access to quality medical care for our children should not be a privilege but a right.

Families shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and getting their child the medical care they need. Children are one third of our population and all of our future; continuing to fund CHIP is not a matter of choice but a matter of principle.

It’s been more than three months since Congress let federal CHIP funds expire. States have given Congress the benefit of the doubt, assuming CHIP would be funded before any kids lost coverage. But time is up and the consequences for families are real. In Idaho, CHIP funding may last until the end of January, but there’s no guarantee for the rest of the year. Our funds are currently being shared with states like Arizona and Utah, where funding has already run out and where families are receiving mailed notices letting them know their children may lose health coverage.

If CHIP is not renewed, an emergency move will place them on Medicaid, straining Idaho’s budget and putting funding for education and other state priorities at risk. Idaho pays a significant share of the costs for Medicaid recipients, whereas CHIP is fully funded by federal dollars. What’s more, huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans in the just passed Congressional tax bill mean that Medicaid will likely face drastic cuts, pitting our most vulnerable — children, seniors and Idahoans with disabilities — against each other in state funding decisions.

Congress owes it to our kids to swiftly and immediately fully fund CHIP. Is it unconscionable that the leaders we elect to represent us may return home to be with their children and grandchildren, while thousands of Idaho families continue to worry about whether their children will have access to life-saving medical care. Please call Idaho’s members of Congress and tell to put Idaho’s children first this Christmas by funding CHIP.

Katie Apple is the senior director of business operations at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital. She has more than 20 years of experience in health care administration, operations, business development and strategy implementation.