‘It's a lifeline' | Mother worried about future amid temporary CHIP extension

Austin family affected by CHIP speaks out

AUSTIN - On Thursday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill worked towards a stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown.  If passed, that measure would provide a temporary extension to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the end of March. 

"For our family, it's a lifeline," explained Elizabeth Hong, who lives in Austin with her family. 

Both Hong and her husband work. A mother of three and a guardian of a fourth, Hong was a special needs teacher before moving to Texas four years ago.  But she's had to forego professional opportunities to take care of her children. 

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"One of my kids has appointments weekly for therapy and psychiatry monthly, and my daughter also has asthma so she needs inhalers and nebulizers and all that," Hong explained. 

Some of the benefits covered by CHIP in Texas include doctors visits, dental care, x-rays, eye glasses, and hearing tests. In total, more than 400,000 children and 36,000 pregnant women utilize CHIP in Texas.  

The program was established in 1997 to assist families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford insurance on the private market. 

"One of the most important (CHIP accomplishments in Texas) is that the uninsured rate for children has gone down to single digits, which is amazing for a state that we have a lot of small employers who don't offer coverage because it is very expensive," explained Stacy Wilson, the president of the Children's Hospital Association of Texas. 

Last week, the federal government gave Texas $135 million to continue the program in the state through the end of February.  While Hong appreciated that short-term extension, her family has taken steps to plan in the event it expires. 

"We do have to prepare for the future, so when we’re looking at presents and what we’re going to be able to give the kids, and teacher gifts and all of those things that we buy at this time of year, we do have to be careful in order to make sure that we have plenty of money prepared within a reasonable amount for the future," said Hong. 

CHIP funding ran out at the end of September, though many states have temporarily made up the gap through grants and other funding avenues.   But with that set to end, the future of CHIP remains unknown. 

"For many parents, the not knowing is the hardest part.  If we could plan ahead and know that it is coming, then it would be so much easier," Wong explained. 

The program has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, giving many hope for a long-term extension in the near future.  

"Our kids are very important, and they're not pawns in a political game," Hong said. 

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