Fredrickson: Government re-opening brings good news for healthcare

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. 

The government re-opening last week was major headline news across all platforms. What escaped the notice of many citizens was the implications for healthcare that came with this bill.

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In addition to refinancing the government through Feb. 8, the bill also provided health insurance for more than 6 million pregnant women and children, 75,000 of whom live in Colorado.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program ran out of funding last fall. It was the closest the program has come to failing since its inception in 1997. CHIP started as a bipartisan effort and continued through the years that way, usually being funded again before or shortly after it ran out of funds. It seemed like a program everyone could genuinely agree was a good thing, because it provides health insurance for children and pregnant women who make slightly too much money to qualify for Medicare, but not enough to realistically afford private insurance.

However, in this last legislative season refinancing CHIP fell by the wayside. Finally, though, the House and the Senate passed a resolution everyone agreed upon, as part of the terms for re-opening the government: funding CHIP for another six years, meaning it will not need to be re-approved until early 2024.

This is excellent news and a huge relief for the more than 75,000 children and pregnant women enrolled in Colorado’s program, which is called CHP+ in-state. Finances for the program would have run out in October had Hickenlooper and the state government not redirected other federal funds to allow the kids to keep their insurance through the end of January. Now, at least, beneficiaries of this program will be able to rest easier, knowing that they have insurance for another six years.

The next time CHIP comes up for reauthorization, there will likely be a different president at the end of their term. It is tempting now to forget about it and not care about CHIP again until 2024, but it’s still important to think about what happened to cause us to get where we are.

If anything could unite both sides of the aisle, hopefully it would be providing access to healthcare for kids. “Children deserve healthcare” should not be a political issue, but we saw both sides using CHIP as a bargaining tool in the months leading up to this vote. It’s an alarming dehumanization of a very human issue, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

The re-opening bill also made Senators Graham and Cassidy optimistic about future funding subsidies to health insurers through the Affordable Care Act, which allows insurance companies to offer reduced rates through the Marketplace. After their initial overhaul, the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill, failed, the senators are still working on this issue – and they have taken a slightly less radical approach.

 Trump has said he will end the subsidy program with the health insurers, and indeed the payments have stopped, having an effect on the prices of insurance this year. However, Graham and Cassidy are actively working with the House to get the payments restarted. This is relevant especially to a demographic like college students, who may work part-time jobs and not have health insurance through work, which may necessitate getting insurance through the Marketplace.

As harmful as their bill would have been to healthcare had it passed, working to get these subsidies re-established is good for everyone, because it keeps health insurance costs in an affordable range.

They are opposed by Republicans wanting to overthrow the ACA in its entirety, but Graham has said he is hopeful about a compromise as a result of the discussions brought about by the government reopening.

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The government has funding through Feb. 8. Children’s health insurance has funding through 2024, and the cost-sharing reduction payments may be on a path to resumption.

This is good news for everyone, regardless of political affiliation.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42