If hypocrisy is a bipartisan sport on Capitol Hill, then Republicans were the Olympians of this government shutdown. Let’s leave aside Democrats rightly demanding legislation to address the recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I’m focused on the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Great that the continuing resolution that ends the government shutdown fully funds CHIP for six years. But what good is it if kids have nowhere to go to access care?
Over the weekend, we watched House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wax emotional about kids being deprived of health care because Democrats wouldn’t vote for the continuing resolution that would finally finance the program after it expired on Sept. 30, 2017.
“On Thursday, this House passed a bill to keep the government open and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers nearly 9 million children from low-income families,” Ryan said Saturday as he blamed Senate Democrats for keeping the chamber from following suit. As a result, “A number of states will soon run out of money for children’s health insurance,” he added later. “Republicans in the Senate have done all we can to continue the normal operations of the federal government and secure certainty for S-CHIP kids,” McConnell said Saturday. “We could pass it tonight, it could go to the president for signature, and these kids would be okay.”
No. That’s not true. The kids would not be okay. As they were playing up their concern for CHIP, they were hoping you wouldn’t see the hatchet they took to funding for community health centers.
“In their effort to continue dismantling Obamacare, the Republican continuing resolution does not include funding for community clinics and private hospitals that care for large numbers of low-income patients,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) told me. The impact of this budgetary slight was made plain by one of her constituents in an email she shared with me.
Wanted to touch base about CR that doesn’t include health Center funding. St. John’s will lose 10% of our budget ($8.4 million a year). We’ll have to close 6 of our 15 clinics in your district.
It’s also self defeating to fund CHIP but not health centers since most kids with CHIP receive their care at community health centers. So they may have CHIP but they won’t be able to access services because their Health Center is closed.
That message came from Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles. When I got him on the phone, he told me that his community health center serves 100,000 “unduplicated” patients, 48,000 of whom are children. “About half of them would lose access to health care services,” Mangia said. “Where are those kids going to go for health care? They have CHIP, but their doctor has been laid off. It’s so cynical, their argument. And disingenuous.”
If Congress addresses this issue on the full plate it must consider before the new continuing resolution expires on Feb. 8, St. John’s will be able to continue care. “We’ll try to float it for three weeks,” Mangia told me. “We’ll hold off paying our bills.” Because his is a large organization, he believes he can move money around to keep clinics open, medical personnel employed and patients cared for.
Thanks to the votes of 33 Senate Democrats, McConnell got the votes he needed to end the shutdown and stave off the next showdown for three weeks. Just as Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) who questioned McConnell’s trustworthiness on DACA, Bass isn’t convinced either.
“McConnell also assured Senator [Susan] Collins’s [R-Maine] needed health care subsidies would be addressed if she voted for the tax bill,” Bass said. “What happened to that commitment? Why would anyone trust him now?” I don’t think Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) trusts McConnell either. And when that trust is breached and the government shutters once again, everyone will clearly know who caused it.
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