"Six years" has a nice, solid ring to it. That’s why we like the terms of a belated deal in Congress to fund one of the success stories of national policy, the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
In Louisiana, it is LaChip, and it is basically a Medicaid program for children of poor families.
Who’s against that? Politically, it’s been a blessed program that has drawn support across partisan divides. In Louisiana, such prominent Republicans as Bobby Jindal, once the state’s health secretary and later congressman and governor, have pushed for an insurance card for youths. Sure, there are problems with Medicaid, and for that matter with private insurance, but if CHIP meant that kids could go to the doctor, nobody was against it.
Perhaps it was politically more saleable than traditional Medicaid, as the U.S. government provides a generous reimbursement for state spending, and even middle-class families can benefit: Families of four can make up to just over $53,000 a year and still qualify for free care for children up to 19. If that family makes up to just under $63,000, it can get coverage for a nominal premium.
In a national landscape where too much is short-term and transitory, the durable political consensus for LaChip and its counterpart programs in other states has seemed something of an anomaly.
Until, of course, last year, when the reauthorization of the program was held up for months in Congress. Some states had to send letters to families that insurance was no longer covered; Louisiana was able to hold out but was on the verge of real cuts when Congress finally acted.
The theory was that everybody in the debate was interested in seeing the program reauthorized. Because of budget rules, though, it became a partisan battle with GOP lawmakers wanting to offset the cost of children’s insurance with cuts in another health program — part of the Republicans’ favorite target, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
This was a nonstarter with Democrats, obviously. Finally, the children’s insurance program became embroiled in yet another debate, over Democrats’ demand for an early resolution of an immigration issue.
Seems like both parties here can be accused of pettiness, letting other issues get in the way of the primary care for children.
For the moment, and probably for a while, LaChip and its peers seem safe and the kids covered will have a fair shot at healthier lives. That’s good for the nation. But isn’t that also a good prescription for the other activities of the U.S. government that help give a ladder up for people in this country.