The Senate is debating legislation to renew the Children's Health Insurance Program, established in 1997 to care for children in low-income families who do not qualify for Medicaid but are unable to afford private insurance. The program will expire on September 30 unless it is reauthorized by Congress. "This debate is not just about extending health care to our children. It is about our national priorities. It is about who we are as a nation. It is about which side we are on," Senator Bernie Sanders said in a speech to colleagues.
"For the last six years we have had a president who has in insisted, as one of his major priorities, on more and more tax breaks for the very wealthiest people in our country, people who are worth billions of dollars, people who have collectively received hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks. But when it comes to those people most in need, those people who are most vulnerable, including the children of our country, the kids who are two or three years of age who have health care needs, this president tragically and embarrassingly has just not been there. If you are wealthy and powerful, he's there. If you are a child and vulnerable, he is AWOL, he's just not listening."
The legislation now before the Senate would invest an additional $35 billion over five years to strengthen the program's financing, increase outreach and enrollment for low-income children of the working poor; and improve the quality of health care that children receive from public programs like Medicaid and CHIP.
Sanders would go even further. Under legislation he proposed earlier this year, all children in the United States would have access to health care, including some 9 million children who are currently uninsured.
Vermont has been a national leader in providing health care for children, but around the country chronic budget shortfalls, confusing enrollment processes, and dramatic variation in eligibility and coverage from state to state have prevented millions of eligible children from leading healthy lives.
"The good news is that we in Vermont should be very proud of what we have accomplished in terms of providing health care access to our kids through the Dr. Dinosaur program. Dr. Dinosaur is far from perfect, but it has gone a long way in providing quality care to the children of our state, and makes us one for the leaders in the country in this area," Sanders said. "Unfortunately, the situation throughout the rest of the country is very different. Ninety percent of the 9 million uninsured children in America live in a household in which an adult is working but still lacks health insurance for his or her child, and, believe it or not, over half of these uninsured children live in a household in which both parents are working."
To read more about the children's health insurance bill now before the Senate, click here.
To listen to Senator Sanders' 10-minute floor statement on the Children's Health Insurance Program, click here.