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Murray Urges Senators to Vote for Children's Health Care, Tells Story of Marysville Girl Who Depends on CHIP

Jan 28 2009

Murray: Children's Health Insurance Program even more critical now in tough economic times

Audio | Video | Additional WA State CHIP Facts

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered a passionate speech on the Senate floor, urging her fellow Senators to do the smart – and moral thing – and support the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP. 

The Senate this week is debating a bill that reauthorizes CHIP and extends coverage to a total of 10 million low-income children nationally.  CHIP was vetoed twice by former President Bush, and passing the bill and sending it to President Obama is a top priority for Senator Murray.  The bill would increase funding for Washington state to $94 million, allowing the state to cover thousands more uninsured, low-income children. 

In her speech, Murray said the need for CHIP has only grown more critical as unemployment has skyrocketed, adding more than a million children to the rolls of the uninsured in the last year.  The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that for every 1-point increase in the unemployment rate, 700,000 children across the country lose their health care.

“In the year since former President Bush last vetoed CHIP, unemployment has skyrocketed nationally and in my home state of Washington, and as a result, millions of families across our country have lost their health care in the last year alone,” Senator Murray said in her speech.  “That’s wrong.  And it’s one of the reasons we’ve put CHIP at the top of our agenda this year.  In difficult times like these, it’s more important than ever to make sure our nation’s children never have to go without medical care.”

Senator Murray also shared the story of 6-year-old Brenna Krug, of Marysville, WA, whose mother wrote to say how important CHIP is to her family.  Brenna suffers from the serious genetic disease Cystic Fibrosis, and her mother said that without CHIP, she could not afford treatment for her very sick daughter. 

“When a child gets a cut that requires stitches, has a fever, or an ear-ache, or develops a serious disease – like Cystic Fibrosis – they should be able to get health care.  Period,” Senator Murray said.  “I want to make sure Brenna’s mom never has to worry about going into debt to keep her child alive – or whether health care will be there for her daughter.  So let me say it again:  This bill is about making sure kids can see a doctor.  Passing it is the smart thing to do for our economy – but it’s the moral thing to do for our children.”

The following are Senator Murray’s remarks as prepared for release:

Madam President, regular health care is critical for a child to grow up to be a strong and healthy adult.  We all know that.  Yet every day, millions of American children are denied access to this very basic need.  They can’t get regular check-ups, or see a family doctor for sore throats, ear-aches, or fevers.

And as our economy continues to struggle, the problem is growing worse.  At the end of 2007, we came together on a bipartisan bill that would have taken big steps toward helping millions more kids get health care.  It would have renewed the Children’s Health Insurance Program and made sure that almost 10 million low-income children were covered.

It is a tragedy and a shame that children’s health care became the victim of a partisan fight.

But this week, we have the opportunity to make children’s health a priority by renewing and expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and getting it signed into law.  And it couldn’t come a moment too soon.

In the year since former President Bush last vetoed CHIP, unemployment has skyrocketed – nationally, and in my home state of Washington.  And as a result, millions of families across our country have lost their health care in the last year alone. 

Madam President, that’s wrong.  And it’s one of the reasons we’ve put CHIP at the top of our agenda this year.  In difficult times like these, it’s more important than ever to make sure our nation’s children never have to go without medical care.

So I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the 2009 CHIP reauthorization.  It’s the smart thing to do for our economy – and it’s the moral thing to do for our children.

CHIP has Broad Support

Madam President, most of us in the Senate support reauthorizing and improving the Children’s Health Insurance Program because we share the goal of ensuring all kids can get health care.  Study after study shows the benefits:

  • Children in the program are much more likely to have regular doctor and dental care;
  • The health care they receive is better quality;
  • And they do better in school because they’re healthy.

Madam President, this bill is almost identical to the one we passed overwhelmingly in 2007.  It ensures that the children already enrolled in CHIP will continue to receive health care.  And it provides another 3.9 million low-income children with coverage. 

Most of those are kids who never had insurance because their parents couldn’t afford it, who lost Medicaid coverage, or who were recently dropped from private insurance rolls.  And I think it’s critical that we expand health insurance to cover them.

2009 Bill Strengthens CHIP and Helps Washington State
Now, there are a couple of specific provisions from this bill that I want to highlight to make sure my colleagues understand why it’s so important to pass this bill now.

First, Madam President, as I said at the beginning of my remarks today, the economic recession has made it even more important that we make children’s health care a priority and reauthorize CHIP. 
On Monday of this week, some of the strongest companies in our nation announced they would cut more than 75,000 jobs combined.  Unemployment is now at the highest level in 16 years.  And we haven’t seen the worst of it. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that every time the unemployment rate increases a point, 700,000 more children lose their health insurance.  By those numbers, well over a million more children have lost their insurance in the last year alone.  And many more will lose coverage in the weeks and months to come.

But this bill will make it easier for states to ensure those children can continue to get health care.  It adds more flexibility to the program and sets funding rates based on state budget projections.  So states in the worst financial shape will get more money to help pay for health care.  This would be a huge help for Washington – and for the many families struggling to provide health care for their kids.
 
At the same time, Madam President, the bill will strengthen CHIP by making sure resources are targeted at covering the low-income, uninsured children Congress meant to help when we created CHIP in 1997.   For example, it gives states new tools to raise awareness about CHIP in rural, minority, and low-income communities – to help reduce the disparity in care for minority children and extend care where it is most needed.

And it creates a performance-based system that rewards states for reducing the number of uninsured children by making sure the lowest-income children are the top priority for CHIP and Medicaid.   

CHIP is Paid For

Finally, Madam President, CHIP is paid for.  The $31.5 billion cost would be covered by a 61-cent per-pack tax increase on cigarettes and other tobacco products. 

We aren’t taking away from other economic priorities.  Social Security isn’t raided.  The deficit won’t be increased.  It’s a win-win for everyone because experts estimate that by increasing the cost of cigarettes, almost 2 million adults will quit smoking – and we’ll prevent millions of kids from ever getting hooked.  It’s good for our children now – and it will help millions stay healthy in the future, too.

CHIP is About Keeping Kids Healthy

Now, Madam President, although this bill has broad bipartisan support, some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have tried to throw up obstacles that distract us from the real issues.  I want to make it clear today what this bill is about.  It’s about our kids. 

This legislation is about making sure our children can see a doctor when they’re sick.  It’s about making sure they can get medicine that will make them better.  And it’s about honoring our promise to provide 10 million kids with health care that will help ensure they can grow into happy, healthy adults.

Brenna’s Story

So I’d like to share the story of a little girl from my home state because I think it puts the importance of this legislation in perspective.

Madam President – meet Brenna.  She’s 6 years old.  And she has a serious genetic condition called Cystic Fibrosis.  Brenna’s family lives in Marysville, Washington – in a part of my state that has been hit tremendously hard by the economic downturn.

Like many people with Cystic Fibrosis, Brenna’s health care costs are about 10 times more than the average child, and it’s nearly impossible to get private health insurance to cover her bills.  In fact, almost half of all the children with CF would not have health care at all if they didn’t have CHIP or Medicaid.

Brenna’s mother, Brandy, recently wrote to tell me that her family depends on CHIP to care for Brenna and to keep the family going.  She wrote:

“I don’t know what I would do if I did not have this wonderful program.  I simply would not be able to pay for her to receive the care she does now.  I would be in never-ending medical debt, and in the end of it all, I would – mostly likely – lose my daughter either way.

“The economy is rough enough right now.  The SCHIP program is something I am extremely thankful for.  It provides me sanity and strength every year to take care of my child and her needs.  Please allow this program to continue.  Lives depend on it.”

Madam President, those are heart-wrenching words – most of us can’t even imagine being in Brandy’s shoes.  Her daughter’s story shows just how critical the Children’s Health Insurance Program really is.

This bill is about Brenna and the millions of children like her around the country.

Support Children’s Health

And so, Madam President, it comes down to this:  when a child gets a cut that requires stitches, has a fever, or an ear-ache, or develops a serious disease – like Cystic Fibrosis – they should be able to get health care.  Period.

I want to make sure Brenna’s mom never has to worry about going into debt to keep her child alive – or whether health care will be there for her daughter.

So let me say it again.  This bill is about making sure kids can see a doctor.  Passing it is the smart thing to do for our economy – but it’s the moral thing to do for our children.  And on behalf of 6-year-old Brenna, the 115,960 uninsured children in Washington state, and the almost 9 million uninsured children across our country – I urge my colleagues to support this bill.