Archived: No Room in Our Inn for the Most Famous Poor Baby in History?


In this holy season of Advent, tens of millions of Christians await the birthday of the most famous poor baby in history on Christmas Day. Yet that baby—born in a stable after being denied a room in the inn for his birth over 2,000 years ago—might still find “no room” signs in the health care inn of the richest nation on earth.

As Congress debates health care reform, affordable, accessible, and comprehensive coverage for all children should be a no-brainer, and a top priority in a moral and economically sensible nation. Instead, millions of children face the danger of actually being worse off if the successful and cost-effective Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is abolished, as a House bill proposes.

The popular CHIP program was enacted in 1997 with the bipartisan leadership of Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch. President Barack Obama renewed it within a month of taking office, after two vetoes by George W. Bush.

“We fulfill one of the highest responsibilities we have: to ensure the health and well being of our nation’s children,” Obama said in February. “No child in America should be receiving her primary care in the emergency room in the middle of the night.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Yet 10 months later, as Congress debates and prepares to vote on urgently needed national health reform for all, the House of Representatives has enacted a bill abolishing the successful CHIP program, turning millions of the children it covers over to a new, untested, more expensive health insurance exchange driven largely by insurance companies, ignoring the protections CHIP children currently enjoy. Millions of CHIP children would be worse rather than better off as parents have to pay more for less.

Fortunately, Congress can right this wrong and keep a program that works and is more cost-effective than the proposed exchange. On November 30, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced a new amendment to protect and improve CHIP until 2019. This will give us time to see how the new exchange will work and whether it’s a safe and more cost-effective way to serve children. Casey’s amendment would fully fund CHIP and improve it by making it easier for parents to get and keep their children enrolled. It would make CHIP mandatory in all states for working families with incomes up to at least 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($55,000 for a family of four) and end the unjust lottery of geography and 50 different state-eligibility standards. The Casey amendment would also ensure CHIP children the same comprehensive benefits of Medicaid.

All children deserve an equitable national health safety net guarantee, just like seniors. I’m grateful for my Medicare and how simple it was to get this year. I wouldn’t have liked it if I lived in a state where it was available at some minimally decent level or if I faced huge bureaucratic hurdles to qualify.

The lives and health of millions of children depend on what you and I do to protect them now. We adults—parents, grandparents, people of faith—must stand up to our political leaders in both parties and not let our children become expendable political collateral to powerful special interests. Children have only one childhood. Let’s ensure they enjoy rather than lose it.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund. Distributed by

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