Wednesday, December 13, 2017 12:00 pm
Fact-checking Jimmy Kimmel on Children's Health Insurance Program funding
Glenn Kessler |
CHIP "always had bipartisan support. But this year, they let the money for it expire while they work on getting tax cuts for their billionaire and millionaire donors."- Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, in a monologue, Dec. 11, 2017
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel on Dec. 11 stepped out of his comedic role and offered a commentary on the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, after introducing his son Billy, who has a serious heart issue. His presentation was a bit one-sided, and readers requested a fact check. It's often difficult to describe Washington sausage-making in shorthand, and Kimmel fell short in several areas, appearing to pin most of the blame on Republicans – even though he was careful not to mention party affiliation.
So we offer a quick guide to his rhetoric. Since this is akin to a round-up, we're not awarding Pinocchios.
"We also want to thank the very bright and talented doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital who treated Billy, and not just Billy, many kids with so much caring and compassion. Children from every income level whose health is especially threatened right now because of something you've probably never heard of; it's called CHIP.
"CHIP is the Children's Health Insurance Program. It covers around 9 million American kids whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but don't have access to coverage, affordable coverage, through their jobs, which means it almost certainly covers children you know."
CHIP was created in 1997 during the Bill Clinton administration as part of a balanced-budget deal signed by the president. By all accounts, the prime mover behind CHIP was the late senator Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. He was inspired by a similar Massachusetts program and then enlisted Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, as his partner in the effort. The original idea was to fund children's health care with money raised from taxes on tobacco products. Hatch is still in the Senate and chairman of the Finance Committee, making him a key player in the negotiations.
About nine million children are enrolled in CHIP.
"About 1 in 8 children are covered only by CHIP, and it's not controversial. It's not a partisan thing. In fact, the last time funding for CHIP was authorized was in 2015. It passed with a vote of 392 to 37 in the House and 92 to 8 in the Senate. Overwhelmingly, Democrats and Republicans supported it. Until now."
Support for CHIP remains bipartisan. Kimmel starts to go off the rails by suggesting that support is no longer bipartisan.
The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, which is why funding technically ran out when CHIP was not reauthorized. But states may continue to spend unspent 2017 allotments and funds from earlier years. Only three states and the District of Columbia were projected to exhaust their funds by the end of December; more than half the states would run out of funds if fiscal year 2018 funding is not set by the end of March. That's the kind of deadline that focuses the attention of lawmakers.
In any case, the stopgap spending bill approved in early December included a provision that permits the Department of Health and Human Services to shift funds internally to help states whose CHIP programs are running out of money. Congressional leaders are expected to continue negotiating a long-term reauthorization of the program in the coming weeks.
"Now CHIP has become a bargaining chip. It's on the back burner while they work out their new tax plans, which means parents of children with cancer, diabetes and heart problems are about to get letters saying their coverage could be cut off next month. Merry Christmas, right?"
Kimmel falsely suggests that CHIP has become bargaining chip as part of the negotiations over the tax plan. It's actually part of the usual year-end negotiations in Congress. Few lawmakers are really against CHIP; the question is how to fund it.
The GOP-led House of Representatives on Nov. 3 passed a CHIP reauthorization bill by a vote of 242-174, with most Democrats voting against it because of funding offsets. In particular, they objected to shortening the grace period for Obamacare enrollees who fail to make premium payments. House Republicans have complained that Democrats have not countered with their own funding proposals, while Democrats have said offsets should not be necessary when the tax bills will add to the federal budget deficit. They have instead pushed for a "clean bill" rather than one with "poison pills."
The Senate Finance Committee in October approved its own version of the CHIP funding extension, but agreement has not been reached on how to fund it. Still, it's quite possible a deal will be reached before Christmas. Lawmakers want to leave town before then.
"So this happened because Congress, about 72 days ago, failed to approve funding for CHIP since the first time it was created two decades ago. This is literally a life-and-death program for American kids. It's always had bipartisan support. But this year, they let the money for it expire while they work on getting tax cuts for their billionaire and millionaire donors."
As we noted, Congress has moved forward on resolving CHIP funding while also pushing forward on tax legislation. While aspects of the legislation are tilted toward the wealthy and corporations, most taxpayers in all income groups at least initially will experience a decrease in taxes, according to the Joint Tax Committee.
Moreover, one House GOP proposal to fund CHIP would target the wealthy by eliminating a Medicare subsidy for retirees with annual incomes above $500,000.
"And imagine getting that letter, literally not knowing how you will afford to save your child's life. This is not a hypothetical. About 2 million CHIP kids have serious chronic conditions."
Yes, about 2 million CHIP enrollees have one of six chronic health conditions: asthma, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, mood disorders and developmental disorders such as autism.
"I don't know about you, I've had enough of this. I don't know what could be more disgusting than putting a tax cut that mostly goes to rich people ahead of the lives of children. Why hasn't CHIP been funded already? If these were potato chips they were taking away from us, we would be marching on Washington with pitchforks and spears right now."
Again, Kimmel's frame of reference is off. CHIP funding is being negotiated even as Congress is debating a tax plan. Both the House and Senate have signaled they support reauthorization of CHIP. The impasses over funding had led to some uncertainty in a handful of states, but there is no immediate crisis - and the recent stopgap funding bill provides flexibility to keep CHIP programs running in states.
The bottom line: CHIP is completely unrelated to the tax legislation; in fact, it won't be and was never going to be part of the tax bill. Congress is able to work on several issues at once - and most of the outstanding issues get wrapped up just before important holidays.