CHICAGO - Hundreds of thousands of children in Illinois are in danger of losing their health insurance if Congress doesn't restore funding to the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which has had bipartisan support for decades.
In an emotional call for action, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel brought his baby son Billy on stage Monday night. He spoke about his child's open heart surgery last week and urged congress to restore funding to CHIP.
The program has not been funded since September.
Eight million American children covered by CHIP are no longer covered because Congress has failed to renew CHIP for the first time in more than 20 years.
"This has always been a bipartisan program, but this year they let the money for it expire while they work on getting tax cuts for their billionaire and millionaire donors. And about 2 million CHIP kids have serious chronic conditions. I don't know about you, but I've had enough of this. I don't know what is more disgusting than putting a tax cut that mostly goes to rich people ahead of the lives of children," Kimmel said.
CHIP provides health insurance for parents who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but don't have employer insurance. In Illinois, CHIP federal funds help pay for the state's All Kids Health Insurance Program. According to the Illinois Department of Health and Human Services, 255,000 kids are covered by CHIP.
"It has played a really critical role for kids in Illinois and across the country since it started over 20 years ago," said Dr. Matthew Davis, Lurie Children's Hospital.
Doctors at Lurie Children's Hospital treat thousands of CHIP beneficiaries every year. Dr. Davis, head of Lurie's General Pediatrics Division, said without CHIP emergency rooms are likely to be used for routine care, or parents are likely to hold off getting care until they can afford it.
"If a child has leukemia, I would much rather find that out in the first week that she has leukemia than the second month that she has leukemia. We can help her much more in that case," Davis said.
Doctors and medical students from Lurie, the University of Chicago and other hospitals plan to hold a rally at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago on Thursday, calling on Congress to act soon.
Children in Illinois are somewhat more fortunate than those in other states; without federal money, there are enough state funds to pay for CHIP coverage until September 2018.