More than Insurance on the Line: How the Loss of CHIP Could Affect Families

Jan 8, 2018

 

Arlene Guzman and her son Ronald. Ronald (9) gets health insurance through the federally-funded Children's Health Insurance Program. Congress has yet to reauthorize long-term funding for the program.
Credit Mallory Noe-Payne / RADIO IQ

Ronald is nine, and he says he speaks four languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese and Puerto Rican. His mother, who is from Puerto Rico but is now American, laughs at that last one.  

But two years ago, laughter was scarce in this household. Ronald faced serious challenges, he had suicidal thoughts.

Since Ronald was months old, he had been a handful. He would cry uncontrollably, and he wasn’t aware of danger -- running into the streets. When he was older he’d act out in school. A single mother working multiple jobs, Arlene Guzman struggled.  

“Despite the situation, I view myself as a very strong mother,” Guzman said through a translator. “There was a point when I started to think to myself ‘The things that I’m doing are not working out.’”

Ronald became aware of how hard things were for his mother. He felt guilty. He was seven when he said he wanted to die. Guzman took him straight to the emergency room, where he was referred to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with ADHD.  

Guzman says it was a difficult time. She was worried about her son and wanted to be with him all the time. But she was also stressed about finances, she was the sole breadwinner. When she found out that Ronald’s health insurance would cover everything, she felt enormous relief.

 

 

Everyone still believes Congress will save this program. It's been too popular for too long and it covers too many kids.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program

Today Ronald is a happy healthy kid. He has medication that helps him pay attention in school, and he enjoys after school therapy. All of it is paid for by the federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But now that program is under threat.

  

Virginia has mailed out notices to the families of more than 60,000 children, telling them they’re in danger of losing coverage. For months, Congress has failed to re-authorize funding for the universally supported program. As they debated over healthcare and taxes, the deadline for funding CHIP slid past.

CHIP has been around for twenty years and provides health insurance for 9 million children nationwide. It’s always enjoyed bipartisan support. But now Congress can’t agree on how to continue to pay for it.

“Everyone still believes Congress will save this program. It’s been too popular for too long and it covers too many kids,” said Linda Nablo, Chief Deputy Director for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services.

In a last minute budget resolution before the holidays, Congress agreed to keep funding the program -- but only through March. Nablo estimates that will give Virginia enough money to keep operating through February.

“The worst case scenario for states is that they keep doing these little tiny increments, because that leaves everything in a state of unrest and disarray and uncertainty,” said Nablo.  

Limited Options

That uncertainty has been difficult for many families. Arlene Guzman is a pastor and a radio DJ for a local Spanish-speaking station. She started sharing her story on the air, and soon other families began calling in with their own.

“I am not only worried about me, I also worry about many other families, many other parents who are American citizens and are facing the same exact situation that I am facing,” said Guzman.

 

Additional Content: Virginia Prepares to Shut Down Health Insurance Program for 66,000 Children

If those parents lose CHIP, one of the most realistic options for providing insurance to their children is to work less. That’s because CHIP is designed for the working poor. A parent has to make more than the poverty line for their children to qualify. If they make less, their children can get health insurance through Medicaid.

But working fewer hours is the last thing Guzman, and the families she talks to, want. She loves her job, she says it helps with her mental health. Plus, she needs the money.

Because Guzman is a well known voice in Richmond’s Latino community, families keep reaching out. They expect her to know what’s going to happen with their children’s health insurance.

She tells them we’re waiting. Let’s pray.

 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.