Mother worries for children’s health as end of CHIP looms

SAN JUAN — Since birth, Reyna Lopez’s 9-year-old daughter has dealt with a heart murmur, requiring three electrocardiograms and several visits to specialists over the years.

On top of that, when her 5-month-old son showed early signs of asthma Lopez was able to have him hospitalized, preventing those early symptoms from developing into full-fledged asthma.

“If I didn’t have the insurance, it’s possible he would have developed (asthma) completely,” Lopez said in Spanish referring to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers about 9 million children nationwide. “I have the confidence that if there isn’t a doctor here in (the clinic) I can go to a hospital and they will be attended to.”

Her three children, including a 17-year-old daughter, are among the 15,000 children in Hidalgo County who depend on CHIP for access to health care.

Created under a law passed in 1997, the program provides coverage to children of middle- or low-income families that earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid.

But now, the benefits Lopez relies on for her three children’s annual check-ups and to keep an eye on her 9-year-old’s heart condition could be gone as Congress failed to renew funding for the program upon its Sept. 30 expiration.

Since that deadline passed, states across the country have relied on reserve funding to keep the program running. Those are in danger of running out soon if Congress did not reauthorize funding.

Last week, Congress approved $3 billion for CHIP that will keep it funded through March. The funds were included in a short-term spending bill meant to avoid a government shutdown.

Before the bill was passed, funding in Texas was expected to run out in February meaning the more than 400,000 people who rely on it would have had their benefits suddenly rescinded.

CHIP covers about 23,000 children in Hidalgo and Cameron counties combined as of August 2017. In Starr County, about 1,100 were enrolled in CHIP as of March 2017.

Lawmakers have made efforts to refund the program but none have been successful.

In November, the House passed a resolution to reauthorize the program for five years over the objections of many Democrats including U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville.

Their opposition to the bill, Gonzalez said, was because it would also cut $6 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The fund provides grants to states, cities, counties, nonprofits and tribal organizations to prevent infectious diseases, such as influenza and measles, and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.

“It has a lot of exceptions and it takes funding from a lot of municipal clinics and other clinics that provide healthcare for our community,” he said. “I think we need a clean CHIP reauthorization bill and I’m confident that we’re going to get it.”

The House bill has yet to be brought to a vote in the Senate. As of writing, a clean CHIP bill has not been introduced.

Lopez said she has no idea what will happen or what her family will do if CHIP, a program they have relied on so heavily, is no longer available.

“Not having it will affect us because of the necessity for our kids,” she said in Spanish. “We’re going to have to pay more and it might be more than what we have.”

Lopez and her husband’s combined income of $1,000 per month may not be enough to cover the required visits to specialists for her daughter’s heart condition or an inoperable abscess in her son’s eye, both of which require constant monitoring.

“It’s worrisome, as a mother, to think that this program could end,” she said.