courtesy of Equality Pennsylvania
You know our system of government is broken when children are being used as ideological pawns, and that is exactly what seems to be happening with the Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP.
CHIP or State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as it was initially known, was born out of the failed comprehensive healthcare reform plan proposed by President Clinton 1993. In the late 90’s there was renewed effort on the legislation, leading to SCHIP, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy with support from Senator Orin Hatch and then First Lady, Hillary Clinton. Its purpose was to provide healthcare access to children of families whose income was modest but too high to qualify for Medicaid. CHIP is administered by Health and Human Services and provides matching funds to states for children who qualify.
About 9 million children nationwide rely on CHIP for their healthcare, yet in their fight over repealing the Affordable Care Act, Congress missed the September 30th deadline to reauthorize CHIP and let the program lapse amidst a partisan fisticuffs.
Click here to read what the fighting is all about.
Nevertheless, on Friday November 3 the House reauthorized CHIP in a 242-174 vote. It remains to be seen what will happen in the Senate. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have enough funds to keep the program solvent through the end of 2017 and even beyond. But many states do not, meaning significant numbers of children could be in danger of losing their healthcare if Congress doesn’t act.
That’s what’s happening at the federal level. Now let’s zoom in on Pennsylvania. On the surface, it seems like our friends in Harrisburg are trying to emulate the chess game they’re playing in Washington. Like their counterparts in D.C., PA legislators have been haggling over the reauthorization of CHIP. But in Harrisburg it has taken a sinister turn.
Let me introduce you to HB 1388, otherwise known as the Pennsylvania Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) Reauthorization bill. You can read for yourself the long and sordid history of HB 1388 and see how your rep voted (if they were members of the pertinent committees). Click here.
Here’s a brief summary of the evolution of HB 1388:
In August of 2016 in accordance with new federal rules spelled out in the Affordable Care Act, Governor Wolf expanded CHIP to include coverage of gender reassignment surgeries for transgender individuals. (Unsurprisingly the Trump administration is not enforcing the federal rules.) CHIP coverage includes children up to the age of 19, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 342,000 children participated in CHIP in Pennsylvania (in 2016). But more importantly, the PA State Department of Human Services has noted that only 34 CHIP enrollees have sought coverage for counseling and/or surgery related to gender issues or gender reassignment. 34!
A vote was required this year in the PA Legislature to reauthorize the state part of the program until 2019. In June 2017, it passed unanimously out of the PA House and into the Senate, where it was referred to the Banking and Insurance Committee. Here’s where the trouble starts.
Once HB 1388 hit the Banking and Insurance Committee, despite the fact that it had passed unanimously in the House, it was suddenly amended by Sen. Don White, R-Indiana County. Here’s his rationale: "It is completely inappropriate to use state funds to pay for sex change operations for children. I believe that is a position that is strongly endorsed by a vast majority of Pennsylvanians." I’m not sure where Sen. White is getting his information, but it’s been one of the right-wing talking points to say that children as young as 5 are having surgeries, which is completely unfounded.
On October 23 with lawmakers having to choose between voting against reauthorizing CHIP or supporting discrimination, HB 1388 passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee as amended. The “dirty” version of the CHIP reauthorization was now making its way back to the House.
Karen Showalter of MomsRising and the Tuesdays With Toomey crew.
Jane Palmer and Jason Landau Goodman, Executive Director of the PA Youth Congress, getting organized in the rotunda of the State House on October 24th.
Enter your Indivisible Team. On October 24, Jane Palmer and I joined up with our Tuesday With Toomey friends to storm the State House. In a collaborative effort with Karen Showalter of MomsRising and Jason Landau Goodman of the PA Youth Congress, we delivered petitions with hundreds of signatures to 50 senators all over the capital, asking them to pass a “clean” reauthorization of CHIP without the discriminatory amendment.
That same day there was another vote on the bill with an amended version of the White Amendment. Transgender CHIP recipients would now have coverage on services such as counseling but surgery would still be off the table. The next day HB 1388 was sent to the House where it now sits in the Rules Committee. Again its fate is in the hands of our state reps.
“The amendment effectively segregates transgendered children from how other children in the program are treated,” wrote Gov. Wolf to Senate leaders after Wednesday’s vote. “Plain and simple, this is wrong, and all health decisions for these kids should be made with their parents, counselors, and doctors – not by politicians.”
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, staff attorney with Lambda Legal, a national LGBTQ civil rights advocacy organization, said the Senate’s move could put the state in violation of federal law.
The ACLU was another advocacy group which opposed the "dirty" version of the reauthorization. “Writing discrimination against transgender youth into law is offensive and wrong. Senators used CHIP, an effective program to cover the healthcare needs of children, as a vehicle to advance their anti-trans agenda. Have they no shame? If this bill becomes law, we will consider any and all potential legal avenues to challenge it,” says Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania
Transgender kids are already at risk. All one needs to do is look at the instances of bullying and rates of suicide in this segment of the population. Why make it more difficult for them to access a physician's care and psychological counseling, the same rights granted to every other child in the CHIP program? One can't turn it into it a fiscal argument either. Just like Trump’s attempt to ban transgenders in the military, the number of people using the funds is minuscule. Remember what I said earlier-only 34, count them- 34 CHIP recipients sought coverage for counseling and/OR surgery! So this leaves me with one conclusion and one conclusion only, that this dirty bill is a blatant example of discrimination against transgender youth! There can be no other explanation for denying healthcare to underprivileged kids.
The bottom line is kids should not be used like pawns in a game of chess to pursue intolerant personal agendas, and we need to send that message express to Harrisburg!