Congress left town for Christmas vacation after approving just enough money to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program known as CHIP through March. That's left left many parents in Utah who depend on the program, like Sonja Reynolds. worried about what might be next.
Reynolds traveled from Pleasant Grove to Washington, D.C. this month to testify about CHIP and its importance to her family.
She has 10 children, five of whom are on CHIP. Two of her kids suffer from Crohn's, an autoimmune disease, that requires frequent, costly treatments.
“So for us, having CHIP coverage, it’s the only way that we can afford their treatment for them to stay alive,” she says.
While in D.C., she says she couldn’t get anyone from Sen. Mike Lee’s office to hear her testimony. Lee was also the only member of Utah’s delegation to vote against the legislation this week that, among other things, extended CHIP.
She was able to meet with Sen. Orrin Hatch, who co-created the program. She says he was slightly more sympathetic, but she’s frustrated with the lack of action in Congress.
And she isn’t alone. Nearly 20,000 children have CHIP coverage in Utah. Jessie Mandle, a senior policy analyst for the advocacy group Voices for Utah Children, says the political brinkmanship is already having an effect.
“We’re hearing that some families might not be enrolling their kids in CHIP coverage because they’re concerned about the stability of the program,” she says. “So we’re already starting to see the consequences of Congress’ inaction here in Utah.”
State officials are similarly baffled by the uncertainty.
“Oh my goodness. Why can’t they reauthorize that?" said Kristin Cox, executive director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget. "There’s consensus across the board that CHIP should be reauthorized.”
Cox says the state has about $44 million in a restricted fund account that they would recommend tapping if funding ran out, but that would only last a few weeks.
Ashlee Smith, a mother of two in West Jordan, says Washington needs to get its priorities straight. Her two young sons are currently on Medicaid, but they used CHIP after they were born for preventative check-ups.
“It’s unfortunate there are some people who say some people on the program are ‘moochers’” she says. “Because the people on the program are children, and children — they don’t get to choose what they’re born into.”
Current funding will now run out through March, giving parents like Sonja Reynolds a little more room to breathe, but not much.