Shortly before leaving for the elections on September 16, the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), due for reauthorization next fiscal year. The Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) a key drafter of the original legislation praised the program and the need to act on its extension very soon. Rockefeller opened by saying, “2014 marks the 17th anniversary of one of the most successful programs for improving children’s health in the United States: the Children’s Health Insurance Program—more commonly referred to as CHIP. Eight million American children and families look to CHIP for comprehensive and affordable health coverage, including 40,000 children in my home state of West Virginia. CHIP’s success has played an essential role in cutting the number of uninsured children in half over the past 15 years.” Rockefeller included the fact that this will be one of his last actions due to his retirement at the end of this congress and went on to say, “In 1997, Senators Kennedy and Hatch and I spent countless hours discussing how we could increase health care access for children in a way that members of both political parties could support. CHIP was the result of those conversations. Creating this program has been one of the most impactful things I have done in my career in public service. “

CHIP is a mandatory funded program that provides funds to all states to subsidize the cost of health insurance for children in each state. Without Congressional action to extend mandatory funding, it will run out next fall.

Addressing the issue of whether a CHIP extension is necessary since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), First Focus President Brice Lesley testified, “The problem is that, if CHIP funding were allowed to expire – either purposely or due to congressional inaction – it is estimated that up to 2 million children who currently rely on CHIP’s coverage for their asthma, vision, dental, or cancer treatment would become uninsured unless they are able to obtain alternative coverage through some alternative source, such as Medicaid, the exchange plans, employer coverage, or the individual market.”

He went on to say, “In analyzing the question of what would happen to the health coverage of 8 million children if CHIP were allowed to expire, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) issued a report in June which “found that many children now served by the program would not have a smooth transition to another source of coverage” and that the “number of uninsured children would likely rise….”

During the course of the hearings, all Senate members and all panelists took special efforts to complement Senator Rockefeller for his years of service in the Senate. Many members bemoaned the fact that he was leaving and how the Senate will miss a real champion on these health and children’s issues. To read the testimony and statements from the hearing go online here.