Commentary: What about the children?

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"The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."

— Mahatma Gandhi



By Richard Davis

Now they are playing politics with children's lives. As if you needed another reason not to have any respect for the political process.

Congress failed to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and that means that 8.9 million American children from low income families are in jeopardy of losing their health insurance.

The CHIP program provides the lion's share of funding for state programs that insure vulnerable children while states match some of the funding. The program has existed for years and states have come to rely on the federal support to make sure that children from low income families can have access to a quality of health care that helps keep them on a nearly level playing field with their peers who come from more affluent families.

In typical dysfunctional political fashion, the House has proposed a five year extension on CHIP, but at the expense of cutting an Obama era public health program and raising Medicare costs for high income earners. Both of those tradeoffs are bad and have no support from Democrats.

In addition, Republicans want to restructure the entire Medicaid program while they kill off CHIP. In 2016 in Vermont 5305 children were insured under Dr. Dynasaur, the state's CHIP program, and 76,898 were insured under Medicaid.

According to a fact sheet produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Medicaid is a federal-state partnership that guarantees coverage for the most vulnerable children, and covers 35 million children in the U.S. Restructuring Medicaid with reduced federal funding will force states to pit children's needs against other vulnerable groups, including individuals with disabilities and the elderly. Currently federal matching funds to states expand or shrink as the number of individuals enrolled or the cost of providing services changes based on need. Proposals like block grants or per capita caps that set limits on federal Medicaid funding—which accounts for 48 percent of all federal funding received by Vermont—will shift financial risk to the state to fill the gaps."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics 99% of Vermont children have health insurance coverage through CHIP, Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. If the CHIP cuts and the Medicaid restructuring proposals are enacted it will mean that states such as Vermont will have to figure how to deal with the loss of millions in dollars.

In a September 18 vt.digger article it was noted that Vermont stands to lose $22 million as a result of congress not reauthorizing the CHIP program. A state the size of Vermont cannot absorb that kind of loss and it cannot find that kind of money somewhere else without destroying some other part of a human service or infrastructure program.

It is possible that Washington politicians could find a way to not allow millions of America's most vulnerable children suffer and die. But, those children and their families don't contribute big bucks to re-election campaigns and they do not have the kind of lobbying clout of big Pharma or the NRA. That means they don't count for much in the overall scheme of things.

A number of states are already facing deadlines in the next few months and they will have to make some hard decisions, decisions that will create a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of good people.

When a society targets its weakest and most vulnerable it means that the depths of decay and degradation have been reached.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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