Last Tuesday, September 16, the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care held a hearing to discuss the impact and future of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The hearing marked the final meeting of the Subcommittee under the chairmanship of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), one of the architects of CHIP. In his opening statement, Chairman Rockefeller detailed the important role CHIP plays for millions of children in the U.S. and implored his colleagues to act decisively in order to extend CHIP’s funding through FY 2019.

This year marks CHIP’s 17th birthday, and since its enactment the uninsured rate for children has been cut in half (13.9 percent in 1997 to 6.6 percent in 2012). With strong bi-partisan support, CHIP has helped millions of families afford comprehensive health coverage. A recent report released by Wakely Consulting Group found that families on CHIP receive more child-specific benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs compared to similar families covered through marketplace plans set up through the Affordable Care Act. Another report released by First Focus shows that children in rural communities have become more reliant on public health insurance (CHIP and Medicaid) in recent years. The report shows that the percent of rural children covered by public insurance rose dramatically from 37 percent in 2007 to 47 percent in 2012.

Despite its success, CHIP’s federal funding is set to expire at the end of September 2015, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk of losing coverage. The uncertainty surrounding CHIP’s federal funding poses serious problems for states in their current budgeting plans.

The Subcommittee hearing featured testimony from a range of experts on children’s health coverage, including Bruce Lesley (President, First Focus), Dr. James Perrin (President, American Academy of Pediatrics), Cathy Caldwell (Director, Alabama Bureau of Children’s Insurance), and Dr. Douglas Holtz-Eakin (President, American Action Forum). Each witness highlighted the success CHIP has played in promoting the health of America’s children and the potential risks facing many families if funding expires. In his testimony, Mr. Lesley praised CHIP stating, “CHIP has successfully expanded health coverage to kids, tailored services and benefits to address the special health care needs of children, improved access to health care, and reduced financial burdens for low-income families. In the face of a raft of bad news for children, including the fact that 22 percent of America’s kids are living in poverty, CHIP stands out as a shining success story.” Mr. Lesley urged Congress to adopt a four-year extension of CHIP funding that would include an extension of outreach and reenrollment grants, the pediatric quality standard, and Express Lane Eligibility.

CHIP has been a vital program for America’s children for nearly two decades, and although it is authorized through 2019, its funding is set to come to a close in the fall of next year. Senator Rockefeller and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) have both introduced new legislation to extend CHIP’s funding, ensuring continuity of comprehensive coverage for millions of families. With its strong bi-partisan history, CHIP is a hallmark for what Congress can accomplish when it works together. We hope that this hearing marks the first step in renewing the discussion surrounding CHIP and continuing Congress’ investment in the health of America’s children.