When Congress let funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expire at the end of September, it was with assurances that the first-ever lapse in funding for the popular and effective bipartisan program would be temporary. On Wednesday, two key Senate Republicans, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), said reauthorizing CHIP will have to wait until next year, along with their plan to stabilize Affordable Care Act markets, despite a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "It looks like the Christmas present of lower health insurance premiums will now have to be a Valentine's Day present," Alexander shrugged.
The government will shut down on Saturday if Congress doesn't pass a spending bill, and House Republicans are planning to push through a bare-bones package to extend current spending levels until Jan. 19. Democrats have been demanding that CHIP funding, disaster relief money, and a DREAMer bill be included in the must-pass package, but it is unclear if they have the votes or will to force a government shutdown right before Christmas.
Leaving 9 million children and their parents hanging on tenterhooks while rushing to give huge tax cuts to the wealthy "is the ultimate bad Christmas Carol story," Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said Wednesday, holding up a lump of coal she said Republicans were putting in the stockings of low-income children.
About 1.9 million children across the U.S. will lose health coverage in January if Congress doesn't reauthorize CHIP soon, Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families said in a report Wednesday. "Congress must get CHIP done before they leave for the holidays," said program director Joan Alker. Some states, like Virginia and Colorado, are sending CHIP families letters telling them to start looking for private insurance, but parents are worrying how they'll insure their children even without letters. In Alabama, which will stop accepting new enrollees Jan. 2, the CHIP director said the lack of funding has already harmed the program for years to come.