Oregon officials tell Congress: Fund kids’ health program

Gov. Kate Brown and three of Oregon’s members of Congress led a rally Friday that called on Republican leaders to re-up funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The program provides health insurance for more than 9 million children nationwide — and one in 10 in Oregon. Congressional leaders let its funding expire in September 2017. Since then, Brown has instructed the Oregon Health Authority to pay for Oregon children to stay on the program until April 2018.

At the gathering outside downtown Portland’s World Trade Center, Brown said Friday she finds it “crazy” that Congress has not reauthorized program funding. She said federal representatives have instead been passing laws that benefit the wealthy and well-connected.

She admonished congressional leaders to “stop playing political games” with the health insurance program. Brown was echoed by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, who also attended Friday’s rally in Portland. Several dozen rally-goers underscored their remarks with cheers.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer told the crowd that the kids’ health program saves more money than it costs in the long run, because healthy children can grow up to become productive and less reliant on government benefits. He blasted congressional leaders for passing a tax plan that benefits the wealthy instead of reauthorizing funding for the insurance program.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici said funding for the program never should have lapsed.

“Children deserve better,” she said, “and families need better.”

Merkley said Congress’ Republican leaders have been “holding our children hostage as leverage for a final budget deal.” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden told The Oregonian/OregonLive in December that members of Congress are hashing out the details of a funding agreement. A deal has not yet been announced.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides health insurance for families with modest incomes who make too much to qualify for Medicaid. It cost $15 billion in 2016, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Oregon’s share was $231 million that year.