Parents Worry Congress Won't Fund The Children's Health Insurance Program
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Nine million kids get their health insurance through the federal Children's Health Insurance Program. Congress, though, has let the program expire, and it's unclear whether lawmakers will save it. Now more and more states are running out of money to keep the program going. NPR's Alison Kodjak takes a look at how this is affecting parents.
ARIEL HAUGHTON: Go for it.
ROSE HAUGHTON: Bye-bye.
ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Ariel Haughton is trying to keep track of her 2-year-old son as she cheers on her daughter, who's pedaling away on a tricycle in front of her home in Pittsburgh. It's a beautiful morning, but Haughton is stressed out about her kids' health insurance.
HAUGHTON: So we're like a low-middle-class family, right? I'm studying, my husband's working. And our insurance right now is 12 percent of our income just for my husband and I. And it's not very good insurance either really.
KODJAK: It has high fees for doctor visits, a big deductible, and it doesn't cover her kids. Luckily, little Rose and Nonnie are covered by the Children's Health Insurance Program. CHIP is for families who make just too much money to qualify for Medicaid. But states like Pennsylvania are starting to run out of the money they have left for CHIP. Haughton says if CHIP disappears, she'd try to scrape together the money to add her kids to her insurance. But the $150 copayment on her policy would mean she'd think twice before actually taking them to the doctor.
HAUGHTON: That's not a small deal to a family like mine, $150. If you have to pay that, you ask yourself, like, are they sick enough? Like, does this merit a doctor visit?
KODJAK: And hesitation like that could have severe consequences, like for Haughton's daughter.
HAUGHTON: She was about 2, and she developed this fever and a rash on her face.
KODJAK: The fever wasn't that high, but the rash was odd.
HAUGHTON: So I took her into the doctor. And the doctor looked at her, and she said she has Lyme disease. And that she found a little tick.
KODJAK: Rose got on antibiotics right away, and today she's fine. But if Lyme disease isn't treated immediately, it can turn into chronic arthritis in kids.
HAUGHTON: And I know, I know that if I had had to pay $150, I would've thought, you know, like, let's wait.
KODJAK: Todd Wolynn is the Haughtons' pediatrician. He says families all over Pittsburgh are worried.
TODD WOLYNN: Parents are literally telling us they don't know what to do. I mean, they make too much to get Medicaid. And they don't have jobs or earn enough to get the commercial insurance. I don't know what to tell them to do.
KODJAK: So now doctors and patients around the country are worried too, especially as CHIP money runs out in one state after another. For example, Utah announced it will end CHIP at the end of January if Congress doesn't come up with money for the program. And Oregon, which already has run out of federal money, is borrowing from its Medicaid budget to insure its 80,000 CHIP kids keep their coverage through April.
KATE BROWN: I'm absolutely opposed to kicking these vulnerable families off of access to health care.
KODJAK: That's Oregon's governor, Kate Brown.
BROWN: It's appalling to me that Congress is not taking action and is not doing their jobs on this issue.
KODJAK: Back in Pittsburgh, Ariel Haughton agrees.
HAUGHTON: They could've worked on something in August or July and passed it in September instead of just letting funding lapse and playing this game of chicken with our children's health insurance.
KODJAK: So she's been calling and writing to her senators and members of Congress, telling them how important CHIP is to her children. Alison Kodjak, NPR News, Washington.