Republicans are using the health insurance of 9 million children as leverage to get Democrats to vote for the government shutdown bill

  • Republicans proposed a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as part of a funding bill to avoid a government shutdown.
  • They hope Democrats will support the bill since long-term funding for CHIP is included.
  • Democrats and Republicans have been at odds in recent months over how to pay for the vital health program, even though both parties overwhelmingly support it.

House Republicans unveiled a short-term funding plan on Tuesday to keep the government running past the end of this week, and they’re hoping it contains enough leverage to get Democrats to sign on to the deal.

At the heart of the proposal is the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides coverage for nearly nine million children and pregnant women across the US.

A CHIP extension has stalled in Congress since federal funding for the program expired September 30. Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly support the program, but they have been at odds over how to pay for it.

The latest continuing resolution includes funding for CHIP for six years, but does not include include a codification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program. This could derail the bill since Democrats have insisted that any funding bill include protections for the roughly 800,000 DACA recipients.

“It seems [Congress] is playing politics with CHIP and other priorities as well,” Kelly Whitener, a public policy professor at Georgetown University, told Business Insider. “That’s not totally surprising because that’s what’s been happening since the fall when we thought CHIP [extension] should happen before September 30.”

Some Democrats suggested that the GOP deliberately included long-term funding for CHIP without any DACA protections so that in the likely event the resolution fails, Republicans will be able to blame Democrats for voting against passing healthcare for children.

Congress gets a lifeline

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and longtime champion of CHIP, told Business Insider on Wednesday that the Republican tax law that President Donald Trump signed last month gave Congress the “momentum to push a long-term CHIP extension across the finish line.”

“The proof is in the pudding,” he added. “We must stop holding CHIP hostage and get this important program extended to ensure the families who rely on it get the care they need.”

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office granted lawmakers a lifeline after months of deadlock in Congress over long-term funding for CHIP.

In a letter to Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., office director Keith Hall said CHIP reauthorization would save the government $US6 billion over a 10-year period.

That was a surprising reversal from an earlier projection. On January 5, the CBO estimated that a similar CHIP extension would actually cost the government $US800 million over the next 10 years.

Republicans and Democrats welcomed the news.

The CBO previously estimated that the GOP tax law’s repeal of the Obama-era individual mandate will encourage parents to shift their children from the marketplace to CHIP, costing the government less overall.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden echoed Hatch’s comments.

“Big News: extending #CHIP for 10 years would SAVE $US6 billion dollars. With this news, securing kids’ health care for the long-term should be a no-brainer,” he said in a tweet.

Should Congress approve the six-year extension, states will finally enjoy stability after the months-long lapse in funding,Samantha Artiga, a health care policy expert from the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Business Insider on Wednesday.

“But it’s important for states to take action to overcome confusion among families,” she added. State officials in a handful of states, including Colorado and Pennsylvania, have sent termination letters to families warning them that their children could lose their healthcare if Congress doesn’t restore funding.

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