You don't see them as much anymore, but they're still around. They're huddled 30 feet away from the door of your building. You walk by them, holding your nose high. Just seeing them can make you feel physically and morally superior. These downcast folks are the only remaining group of people it's still OK to openly discriminate against: Smokers. If you think people who still smoke in 2018 to be morally challenged dolts, there is a group more deserving of your disdain: Congressional Republicans.
Whatever you may think about 21st-century smokers, they are doing more to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) than any GOP member of Congress. Federal tobacco excises pay for CHIP. Congress allowed the funding authorization of CHIP to expire last year and now there's no more money coming in. Florida has enough in reserve to last until some time in February, then CHIP goes out like a butt underfoot.
Today's Children's Health Insurance Program evolved from legislation beginning in 1989 with the intent to ensure health coverage for all Americans. It has been the most bipartisan endeavor since communist containment policy. CHIP was designed to aid working families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid or welfare but cannot afford health insurance for their children. The fact that CHIP was made to keep people off welfare and Medicaid, as well as provide healthcare for children, is why it has received such broad, bipartisan support over the years through four presidents, from George H.W. Bush through Barack Obama. The bill's initial Senate sponsors were the (now retiring) conservative stalwart Orrin Hatch and liberal icon Ted Kennedy.
CHIP currently serves 375,00 Florida kids. As of 2015, 25 percent of children living in Duval-based Congressional District 4 were receiving CHIP benefits, as well as 31 percent in CD6 to the south, 39 percent in CD3 to the west, and a stunning 57 percent of children received CHIP coverage in Corrine Brown's former district, according to a map created by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children & Families. That's a lot of kids from Kings Bay to Matanzas Bay and beyond who could lose their healthcare next month. Also according to Georgetown University, Florida CHIP was funded at $686.6 million in 2017, 96 percent of which was federally funded. It's a good thing the program in Florida operated under this budget last year, or it would be out of money right now.
Whenever a safety net insurance program disappears or is unfunded, there's a cost to the insurance market the rest of us pay. Right now, only smokers are paying for it. That's really the rub; the money is there. Tobacco taxes are being collected, but Congress just won't cough it up. Florida smokers will tell you they're still paying $1.34 in taxes per pack to the Republican-controlled state and federal governments. So the excuse that Congress is trying to figure out funding before reauthorization is complete bullshit.
Uncle Sam is collecting these taxes, but apparently the GOP wants to see healthy kids get sick or sick kids die before they will fund who and what the taxes are for. Kids can't exactly access the Republican "Get a Job" approach to healthcare and their parents are already working, at least until their kids get sick. Kids and their parents need this insurance.
Funding children's healthcare doesn't cost, it pays. The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that reauthorizing CHIP for the usual five more years would cost the federal government a mere $800 million to fund healthcare for 9 million children. The CBO also stated that funding CHIP for 10 more years would save $6 billion over the decade. This calculation is based on the idea that unfunded children would access Obamacare exchanges, sans the individual mandate, at a higher cost.
Not one of the local area members of Congress seems to have a public position on funding this efficient, bipartisan program. Rep. John Rutherford's only interest in children is that they be born. One month after CHIP funding expired, his Congressional website posted a position on the sanctity of life. Rep. Ron DeSantis is more engaged about kids-his initiative is to expand electronic search warrants for accused child predators. Rep. Al Lawson is on the Out of Poverty caucus, but neither his site nor the caucus' site contains a single word about CHIP funding. Good luck finding a quotation from any of them.
Why worry? Congressional Republicans are using sick kids and a total government shutdown as leverage to force Democrats to vote away Social Security to Wall Street and end Medicare. CHIP funding is already in the bank. Releasing the money is not important to them because they don't think it is important to you. So when you are huddled 30 feet away from your local Congressional office door, don't let your representative walk by you with his nose held high until he knows that you stand up for Florida's kids.
On your third drink at the club some weekend, when you bum a smoke from some dude at the bar, thank him generously and maybe buy him a drink. Not only is he allowing you to smoke without being labeled a dirty smoker, he's doing more for children's healthcare than anyone you pay to represent you. Save your Monday morning disdain for the do-nothing Congress.
Jim Minion is a voting parent.