Sen. Kennedy urges Congress to reauthorize CHIP soon to alleviate public fears

(WVUE) - Sen. John Kennedy is urging  Congress to not waste time in reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, so that families in Louisiana and around the country can have their fears relieved. And local medical professionals said they see the value of the program firsthand for tens of thousands of children from low-income families in Louisiana.

"I don't want people to be scared," said Kennedy.

Metairie pediatrician Dr. Floyd Buras has been treating children for decades, and he knows how CHIP benefits many.

"Many of these kids would have to scramble around to get health care coverage, health care vaccines, health care delivery," said Buras.

Funding for the program expired in the fall, but just before Christmas, Congress approved short-term funding to keep it going through March.

"It's a good program, it's a good program for the kids and it's a good program for the American taxpayer. We've got about a 122,000 kids in Louisiana on CHIP.  We spend in state money about $20 million a year," said Kennedy.

The senator even wrote a letter recently to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to make senate reauthorization of the program a priority.

In the letter, Kennedy said: "Louisiana's CHIP program will run out of money by mid-February.  Some states will run out even sooner."

So Kennedy said Congress must act now. He believes the support is there to reauthorize the program.

"Let's go do it now. We know we're going to do it. It's scaring some people, and we need to just go do it now," he said.

Many families earn too much to get traditional Medicaid but do qualify for the CHIP program.

"In Louisiana, 80 percent of the kids get their health care funded through Medicaid, and if that piece is not reauthorized then many of those children would drop off the Bayou Health funded health care delivery," said Buras.

Kennedy sees it as a moral issue as well.

"These are kids, and every kid deserves a chance," he said.

And medical professionals and Sen. Kennedy said giving children a healthy start will benefit taxpayers in the long run.

"We rely on vaccines as the number one reason why kids stay healthy. Those vaccines are critical and if that piece falls away you're going to expose a large number of children to vaccine preventable diseases if they could not otherwise afford them," said Buras.

"It's been a very effective program, the cost is pretty low per child, you know, three, four, five and in some cases $6,000, it makes sense in terms of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. An unhealthy child is likely to grow up and be an unhealthy adult and cost taxpayers more later," continued Kennedy.

Buras added that already many medical professionals are being reimbursed for less than it costs to care for Medicaid patients.

"They're supposed to pay Medicaid the same as Medicare but they don't…I give kudos to all the docs who see [patients] because they're doing it for less than it costs to provide the care and the state knows that," he said.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.