Children across the country suffering from life-threatening and chronic illnesses risk losing their health insurance unless Congress acts soon.
Shouting "Pass CHIP now!" a group of demonstrators gathered Tuesday in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts for a noontime vigil to show support for the federal Children's Health Insurance Program. CHIP covers nine million children nationwide, including an estimated 255,000 in Illinois.
Congress failed to reauthorize full funding for the popular program late last year. CHIP was created in 1997 to fill a gap in insurance for children from lower income families that do not qualify for Medicaid. The percentage of uninsured children nationwide has been cut in half since then.
CHIP costs the federal government about $14 billion a year. It has enjoyed bipartisan support in most years. However, last year, the Republican majority in Congress insisted on spending cuts to other public health programs before agreeing to reauthorize CHIP.
Linda Unterman of Bloomington, one of vigil's organizers, said CHIP should become a permanent part of the federal budget.
"If the CHIP program goes away (it would affect) kids that are not eligible for Medicaid, kids with serious diseases, cancer, leukemia, the whole gamut and they would not be able to get treatment," Unterman said.
Julie Prandi, who also helped organize the protest, said it will be difficult for most states, including Illinois, to pick up the cost of CHIP.
"We would be hard-pressed with the kind of budget we have in this state. I don't think we would be able to find the money," Prandi said.
CHIP funds could run out in some states as early as next week.
The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services said last month that the state should have enough federal funds left over to carry the CHIP program through next September.
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