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Sometime in late January, 24,000 Montana children will lose health insurance if the U.S Senate does not vote to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). By mid-December the Montana Department of Health and Human Services will be forced to send a warning letter to participating CHIP families with information their child/children will lose the Montana version of CHIP, Healthy Montana Kids insurance coverage, unless the Senate votes to reauthorize the program before the Congressional Christmas break.

CHIP is a low-cost insurance plan available to families whose income match the formula of the federal poverty levels. It provides basic health care – dental care, inoculations, physician office visits, well-child checkup, hospital in-patient and out-patient services, emergency visits, hearing and vision screening, prescription drugs, behavior health and transportation services to children and Ob-Gyn services to pregnant women.

In 2008, Montana Healthy Kids Initiative was passed by a citizen’s vote with 69 percent approval rating to establish the children’s insurance plan in Montana. With the passage of the HELP act in 2015, Montana joined other state in participating in expanded Medicaid and a greater funding share for Healthy Montana Kids shifted to the federal government.

Ironically, both Montana senators have agreed CHIP should be reauthorized and believe there is bipartisan support, yet the Senate has failed to schedule a vote on the bill even though the U.S House passed the bill reauthorizing the program months ago. Sen. Steve Daines stated “The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides important coverage to tens of thousands of Montana children, and consensus exists in Congress to reauthorize the program.” Sen. Jon Tester introduced legislation to reauthorize the program in November.

Gov. Steve Bullock has spoken about the success of the Montana Healthy Kids program. It is well known healthy children experience greater success in school. Good vision and hearing ability increase the opportunity to learn. A sick child not only suffers but contributes to an unhealthy environment for other children in the classroom.

So, what is the hold up? When will the Senate vote on reauthorization? Eleven states have already run out of funds for the program. Fortunately, Montana has the resources to run the program into January, but without a Senate vote to reauthorize, Montana will face closing the successful program that provides basic health care for children.

Contact Senators Daines and Tester to urge a vote on the program.

– Marilyn Ryan represents House Dist. 99, Willis Curdy represents House Dist. 98. Both are retired Missoula County Public School educators.

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