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Dear Congress: Fund Children’s Health Insurance Program

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    Lee Evslin, MD

Congress needs to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

In my first 11 months as a pediatrician, 41 years ago, I took care of 11 cases of bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is a devastating bacterial infection of the brain. Prior to antibiotics, it was 100 percent fatal. Now, even after lifesaving antibiotics are used, the infection still often causes brain damage.

Vaccines against bacterial meningitis have made bacterial meningitis rare in Hawaii and in the rest of America. I have not seen a case in over 20 years. Similar stories can be told for polio, diphtheria, and most of the other diseases that we immunize for.

This is a long–winded way to say that I am very worried about the failure of the U.S. Congress to fund The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP is responsible for funding medical care for over 25,000 children in the state of Hawaii and over 9,000,000 children nationally. The state of Hawaii uses these federal funds to provide medical care through Hawaii’s Med-Quest program.

The CHIP/Med-Quest program insures access to medical care, preventive care (including immunizations) and dental care for the covered children. Hawaii can be proud of the fact that we have used private, state and federal funds to insure that 98-99 percent of the children in the state have insurance coverage.

High rates of immunization require good insurance coverage. Insurance coverage is also vital to increase the probability that children will be seen by medical providers early in the course of an illness. Ensuring that every child has access to healthcare isn’t only a moral imperative, it also makes economic sense.

A case of pneumonia caught early can be easy to treat. A case of pneumonia treated late can require hospitalization and may even lead to death. The same is true for a number of childhood illnesses. There is no logical reason why every child in America shouldn’t have access to quality medical care.

Yet, for the first time in the program’s history, the federal funding for CHIP was allowed to expire. It expired Sept. 30, 2017. According to a report recently released by Georgetown University and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the state of Hawaii could run out of funds for this program by the end of March of 2018. It has since been reported elsewhere that Hawaii could run out of funds as early as next month.

The U.S. Congress is responsible for passing legislation to extend this program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that expanding CHIP for five years would cost $8 billion. Yet, as Congress packs up to go home for the holiday season after passing a massive corporate tax cut, they still haven’t fully funded the program.

Congressional members are smiling for the cameras as they proudly announce the new tax cuts and the parents of nine million children start this Christmas break with no real assurance that their children will have healthcare insurance next year. There is something really wrong with this picture.

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Lee Evslin, MD, is a retired primary care physician. He was former CEO of Kauai Medical Group and Wilcox Hospital. His columns cover recent research on health issues. The information presented here should not be taken as medical advice but only as a sharing of information.

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