Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that an additional two million more children were served by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) over the past year—both programs together serving more than 42 million children who would not otherwise have access to medical care. Truly inspiring numbers delivered the day before a memorable milestone in children’s health.

Today, First Focus is celebrating the second anniversary of enacting the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA). Signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 4, 2009, CHIPRA provided significant new funding for states to enroll additional children in CHIP, moving our nation closer towards the goal of universal coverage for children.

So, with all this rejoicing, why is CHIP, and therefore CHIPRA, so important?

We can all agree that a sick child should never have to wait for care simply because they don’t have access to medical, dental, or mental health coverage. CHIP offers matching funds for state-operated programs to provide health insurance for children in families whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but who don’t earn enough to purchase private health coverage on their own.

Since its inception in 1997, CHIP has been instrumental in providing millions of children the cost-effective and comprehensive health care that they need and deserve. The program has shown remarkable results, reducing the number of uninsured children from low-income families from 23 percent in 1997, to 15 percent in 2009. Today, CHIP provides coverage to more than seven million low-income children. It is estimated that another 5 million children qualify for coverage under CHIP or Medicaid but are not yet enrolled.

Beyond providing additional resources for states to enroll more children into coverage, CHIPRA also provided new options to cover pregnant women and legal immigrant children. Because no child should need to wait five years to see a doctor, CHIPRA eliminated the five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women, allowing states the option to cover these populations in CHIP and Medicaid. CHIPRA also gave states the flexibility to provide low-income pregnant women with coverage under CHIP through a state plan amendment.

While the victories for child health in CHIPRA are numerous (and therefore could make for a lengthy blog post) one final victory we can’t resist acknowledging includes the Express Lane Eligibility provisions in the law, which ease administrative barriers to covering children eligible for Medicaid and CHIP. Under these provisions, CHIPRA allows states to use relevant data from other public programs, like SNAP, school lunch, or WIC, to determine a child’s eligibility. If a child qualifies for school lunch, it is almost certain that they are also eligible for CHIP. With 5 million American children qualifying, but not yet enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP, Express Lane Eligibility is a commonsense solution that eliminates bureaucratic red tape and speeds children into much-needed coverage.

Make no mistake. We still have battles to fight when it comes to the health of our children. There are approximately 7.3 million kids in the United States today that remain uninsured. However, with the passage of legislation like CHIPRA, we are well on our way to providing a healthier future for all of our nation’s children.

For more information on Child Health and CHIPRA: