Our children are our future. In Nebraska and across the country, families are working hard and doing all they can to keep their kids happy and healthy. When a child is sick, caretakers want to know their children will receive the care necessary to get better. During my time in the Senate, I have worked hard to support effective programs to do just that. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) helps to ensure all of our nation’s children have access to health insurance coverage, and it has my fullest support.
Just under 9 million children, or roughly 1 in 8, receive health coverage from CHIP, and this includes about 55,000 children in Nebraska. This program has broad bipartisan support. The last time Congress authorized funding for CHIP I was proud to cast my vote of support and the vast majority of my colleagues joined me. The bill passed by a vote of 392 to 37 in the House of Representatives and 92 to 8 in the U.S. Senate.
That sort of bipartisan support for CHIP remains today. My colleagues and I know there’s so much good achieved through this program, and we are working to extend it. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed the CHAMPIONING HEALTHY KIDS Act, which would fund CHIP, community health centers, and other programs. I am a cosponsor of the KIDS Act in the Senate, which, like the House bill, would extend the program for five years.
Additionally, I recently voted for a short-term spending bill that included a provision allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to shift funds to help shore up state CHIP programs through the end of the year.
I am also a strong supporter of our nation’s community health centers. Over the last 50 years, nonprofit, community-based, patient-centered health centers have earned strong bipartisan support because of their ability to provide high quality, comprehensive, affordable health care, especially to women. These organizations take care of nearly 26 million patients — nearly 60 percent of whom are women and girls — at over 10,000 sites throughout the country.
Community health centers are vital to keeping our state healthy. Nebraska health centers served 84,556 patients in 2016, and 92 percent of them fell below 200 percent of poverty.
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the Charles Drew Medical Clinic in Omaha and see first-hand the comprehensive and compassionate care they provide. In 2014, this clinic treated over 9,000 unique patients during 32,000 patient visits across its 15 service locations. According to their president and CEO, Kenny D. McMorris, patients under the age of 18 represented roughly a third of its patients.
As with CHIP, Congress has been working this year to extend funding for community health centers. I joined a bipartisan letter to the leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee urging them to resolve the funding cliff community health centers are facing and expressed my willingness to work with them. I also cosponsored the Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence (CHIME) Act, a bill to reauthorize the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) for five years, offering a 4 percent annual increase to both the CHCF and NHSC beginning in 2019.
Throughout my time in the Senate, I have heard from many Nebraskans about the importance of CHIP and community health centers. These issues are important and I believe it would be best for Congress to address both on their own merits and pass individual spending bills, delinking them from partisan fights over funding the government.