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by Tom Vitaglione

If you need a reason to eat a slice of cake, we’ve got one for you: Twenty years ago this month, North Carolina adopted the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that the US Congress had passed in the prior year. Known in our state as NC Health Choice for Children, the federal-state partnership was the first expansion in public children’s health insurance coverage since the adoption of the Medicaid Program in the 1960s.

Health Choice was an immediate success, and continues to cover 255,000 children in low-income working families each year. Since its inception, millions of children have benefitted from its full benefits package. Since access to health care is an underpinning of well-being, it is not surprising to learn that our current generation of children has enjoyed not only improved health status, but also better academic success as a result – including the highest high school graduation rates ever.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is eyeing CHIP as a potential area to cut. We will follow these developments closely and keep you posted.

As we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Health Choice, it is informative (and actually quite important) to review the political setting from which North Carolina Health Choice arose. In 1998, there was a Democratic governor, a Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Republican majority in the House. The budget was constrained, and the parties were at odds on most issues, with no mood for compromise. But the opportunity to help children in low-income working families struck a chord with legislators on both sides of the aisle, and Health Choice became the “feel-good” issue of the session.

Negotiations were not easy. Indeed, a six-week special legislative session was required. However, the over-riding goal of improving the well-being of children won out, resulting in a signature bi-partisan success.

Our current political environment is reminiscent of the setting two decades ago. It is easy to feel discouraged that bi-partisan agreement can be achieved on any issue. That’s why it is important to recall the experience that produced Health Choice. North Carolinians, both in our communities and in our governing bodies, have a history of coming together when the improvement of the lives of our children is at issue. We should maintain hope that seemingly intractable concerns – child poverty, infant mortality, and child maltreatment, to name a few – can and will be addressed. Our children deserve no less than our hope and hard work to get there.

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