By David McClendon, Center for Social Measurement and Evaluation

The uncertain fate of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, in Congress is putting 400,000 low-income Texas children at risk of losing their health insurance.

CHIP provides health insurance to more than 8 million children nationwide and is a critical resource for many low-income families. Funding for the program expired in September 2017 and has not been renewed. Currently, Texas is set to run out of money for the program by the end of March 2018.

If funding for CHIP is not renewed, the number of children lacking health insurance could increase by as much as 60%, from an estimated 650,000 in 2017 children to over a million, according to an analysis by CHILDREN AT RISK.

Such a sharp increase would represent a significant reversal in the long-term trend in children’s access to health insurance in Texas. At the height of the Great Recession – before the Affordable Care Act was passed – about 1.12 million Texas children, ages 0-18, did not have insurance. By 2016, the number had declined by 40% to 670,000 children.

Failure to renew CHIP could raise the number of uninsured Texas children back to 2009 levels.

Some number of families will likely obtain insurance for their children through the ACA or private insurance markets if CHIP expires. Still, it is not clear how many families with children on CHIP will be able to afford the costs of those insurance premiums.

Over half of children enrolled in CHIP live in just six counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, El Paso, and Hidalgo counties. More than 76,000 CHIP enrollees live in Harris County alone.

The vast majority of children enrolled in CHIP – nearly 9-in-10 – live in urban counties across the state. 45,000 enrolled children live in rural Texas counties.

A number of Texas counties could see much larger increases in the number of uninsured children if Congress does not reauthorize funding for CHIP. For instance, Tarrant, El Paso, and Dallas counties could see the share of children without health insurance nearly double.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program has wide bipartisan support in Washington. On January 10, Texas Senator John Cornyn assured reporters that Congress will pass a permanent reauthorization of CHIP this month. Yet, this much-needed, sensible resolution is far from certain.

CHILDREN AT RISK supports the reauthorization of CHIP and urges Congress to act now. Children’s healthcare – and the economic security and peace of mind it provides low-income parents and families – should not be used as a bargaining chip on Capitol Hill.

Texas families, especially those on the Gulf Coast still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, cannot afford to live in a state of uncertainty over their children’s healthcare any longer.

Call your senators and representative and urge them to reauthorize CHIP! Enter your zip code at https://contactingcongress.org/ and get contact information for your local elected officials.

Here’s your script: Hi, my name is [your name] and I’m a constituent from [your town]. I’m calling to ask Senator/Representative [name] to support reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program immediately. It’s really important to reauthorize this program before funding starts to expire. Thank you.”