Over 1,200 organizations from across the country recently urged Congress to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is estimates to cover more than 10 million children this coming year. Senator Jay Rockefeller has long been a leader for children’s health coverage and explains why there is urgency in Congress taking up legislation to extend the program as soon as possible.

Eight million reasons to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program

By Senator Jay Rockefeller

This past June I embarked on an effort to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before I leave Congress. Right now, protecting CHIP’s outlook is dire. There are 8.3 million children across this country who stand to lose if we fail to act now.

Without an extension, CHIP funding will expire on September 30, 2015, leaving millions of underserved children and pregnant women at risk of losing access to the specific care, services, and networks that CHIP provides. That includes the 37,000 children in West Virginia who rely on CHIP to stay healthy.

Extending CHIP isn’t just about funding a government program. It is about real children and families – kids who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a doctor’s visit and pregnant women who use CHIP for prenatal care. CHIP is their only source of preventive care, mental health, and dental care, all of which are so important to these kids and their development. That’s why CHIP’s extension is one of the most pressing items currently before Congress.

Almost two decades ago, when I worked with my colleagues to create CHIP with bipartisan support, nearly one-fourth of the nation’s children did not have health care. Today, less than 10 percent of children are uninsured. We have made enormous gains in children’s health – which is why failure to act risks taking a major step backward.

Although funding for CHIP expires in 2015, I can’t stress enough just how important it is to extend it now. Waiting would disrupt state governments, health insurers, and hospitals that are counting on us to act – not to mention the millions of families who need their CHIP coverage so their children can see a doctor.

States simply are not prepared to rapidly transition millions of children into other forms of coverage. So it is imperative to our state legislatures and budget offices to act as soon as possible. We also know that shifting children into other forms of private coverage would cause a major increase in out-of-pocket spending for CHIP families. It’s not right to shift added financial burden onto working families when a cost-effective solution for maintaining their coverage already exists. In addition to creating a financial burden for families, some estimates report that as many as two million children could completely lose access to health coverage should the current program end. We simply cannot jeopardize our future generations by allowing CHIP to expire.

Nearly fifty years ago, I became a passionate advocate for expanding access to health care coverage after my time in Emmons as a Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) worker. I met kids who’d never been to a doctor or a dentist because their families could not afford health insurance. These are the very kids CHIP is meant to protect and the ones I have thought of each time CHIP has come up for a vote. My need to help them has never wavered. I hope my colleagues can find that same need to help in themselves and recognize just how important it is to extend CHIP for their states’ underserved kids. I know they care about the health of our nation’s kids, and I am optimistic they will support continuing this important coverage. Given CHIP’s success in West Virginia, I can’t imagine any of our state’s delegation choosing to let this funding lapse for the 37,000 young West Virginians who need CHIP coverage.

No child should have to go without seeing a doctor or a dentist because their family has no way to access affordable health care services. One of the best ways to guarantee that all children can access coverage and care is to extend CHIP, and that’s why I’m doing all I can to protect and extend this crucial program.