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Sens. Hatch and Wyden: What the CHIP Deal Can Teach Us About Bipartisanship

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Sen. Hatch (R - UT) is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, for which Sen. Wyden (D - OR) is a Ranking Member.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, better known as CHIP, gives vulnerable children and their families peace of mind that they will have access to quality healthcare coverage. Anchored by a deeply held belief that the health of our future is more important than the political division of the present, CHIP was created on a bipartisan basis. Thanks to this foundation, it has continued and improved over the years through some good, old-fashioned congressional consensus-building.

Last week, after an extensive debate that took far longer than either of us would have preferred, Congress passed the longest extension of CHIP since the program’s inception in 1997. This is a moment worth celebrating, and we believe there is a rare opportunity to do even more to secure children’s health for the future.

In the 1990s, too many families felt caught: their jobs left their children underinsured, yet they earned too much to qualify for other social programs, like Medicaid. When Senator Hatch’s friendship with Senator Ted Kennedy paved a bipartisan path toward CHIP, this gap was bridged, providing coverage for hard-working families who needed some help to meet their children’s healthcare needs.

Over the last two decades, CHIP has been a success. Nearly 9 million children and pregnant women currently benefit from CHIP, and kids enrolled in the program are 25% more likely than children without insurance to get annual checkups, among other benefits to their care.

Recent history has demonstrated that the merry-go-round of extending funding for this critical program every one or two years — and the recent bout of short-term patches — has put a strain on state budgets and forced families to scramble and come up with alternatives about how to meet their healthcare needs. While each time bipartisan consensus has prevailed, the disruption it caused states and families in their financial planning is unacceptable.

An overwhelming majority of Americans consider it to be the most divisive time in American politics. But the Senate Finance Committee, which has a deep history rooted in working across the aisle, nonetheless came together to craft a bipartisan solution.

This fall, we held a full committee hearing to examine how CHIP was working in states and for families. We worked together closely to develop the Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act — a five-year extension of CHIP — and voted it out of committee with nearly unanimous support.

After significant negotiations, but unwavering commitment to bipartisanship, we both sought to ensure that funding for this critical program would continue. With the benefit of an improved Congressional Budget Office score, Congress was able to add an additional year to the KIDS Act — securing the longest-ever funding extension in the program’s 20-year history. It ensures stability for vulnerable children by extending CHIP funding for six years — a timespan critical to ending the repeated short-term fixes and constantly looming deadlines. The bill also, over time, transitions CHIP to its traditional federal-state partnership by increasing states’ financial matching requirements.

This is a good start, but our work on CHIP isn’t over. Congress still has the opportunity to enact a longer extension and even more improvements to empower states to provide the best care possible and give families as much certainty as we can muster. Extending CHIP for four additional years is a worthy goal for a program that has enjoyed such strong support from both parties and such clear success for improving children’s health. It would also save taxpayers billions of dollars. We will keep fighting for the future, and we will not abandon bipartisanship to get there.

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