U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania is urging Congress to shift its focus to funding the Children's Health Insurance Program, instead of pursuing the federal tax overhaul bill.
The insurance plan covers nearly 9 million children nationwide whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford private insurance. About 180,000 Pennsylvania children are covered by CHIP.
Congress let the program expire in September, leaving many parents increasingly paranoid about the future of their children's health coverage. Pennsylvania's CHIP funding is expected to run out in February despite the state reauthorizing its participation in the program last week.
Casey said there is enough federal money to keep CHIP alive for the foreseeable future, but that Congress must act to appropriate those funds.
"This is not a funding issue right now," he said. "This is legislation that's already ready to go, it's been through the finance committee."
The CHIP funding bill awaiting approval would secure federal money for the next five years. But Casey said he fears Republicans in Congress will tack CHIP funding onto an unrelated bill as a form of leverage.
"It's essential that this bill pass this week because Congress will wrap up work on a whole long list of things," Casey said. "We've got to get children's health insurance done, and it's now in the hands of one party."