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You probably know the U.S. Congress is ramming forward a plan to increase your taxes and give the savings to the ultra-wealthy. Now, they are playing political games with the healthcare coverage of Montana’s children, at the expense of Medicare beneficiaries.

Next week, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) is going to warn the parents and caregivers of more than 24,000 Montana children that those children may not have health insurance coverage in the near future. As those letters land in the mailboxes of some of the most vulnerable families in Montana, back in Washington, D.C., the leaders of the both major parties continue to play chicken with the lives of these Montana families and people like them around our country.

Most normal people agree that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) needs to be reauthorized in order to provide healthcare coverage for children whose families’ incomes are below a certain threshold. In Montana, we call this the Healthy Montana Kids Program and it is managed by DPHHS. Having our most vulnerable children have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare is more American than apple pie. It allows Montana’s parents and caregivers to children the opportunity to do everything possible to be sure their children have every opportunity possible. They can do so with the confidence that a visit to a physician or an accident leading to a hospitalization will not become a financial disaster for the family.

In Montana, for example, you qualify if your income is less than $64,206 for two parents with two children. Our expanded Medicaid program covers CHIP for families that earn up to $35,178 for two parents and two children. In other words, your friends and neighbors, possibly even you.

In Montana, we need the Healthy Montana Kids program now more than ever. As our communities work together to create more good-paying 21st century jobs, to create affordable housing opportunities and to provide high-quality public education, having the 115th U.S. Congress drag its feet in reauthorizing the CHIP program is a needless burden on our backs from Washington, D.C.

The games they are playing are sickening. Along partisan lines, on Nov. 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would reauthorize the CHIP program with a seriously poison pill. If the Republicans have their way, funding for the program will come from “means testing” in the Medicare program.

How will that work? Extreme Republicans will have the government look into the pocketbooks and bank accounts of every senior on Medicare. They will determine which older Americans have too much money and should not be on Medicare, according to rules they will not disclose at this point. People with too much money, according to the extreme Republican plan, will have their Medicare reduced or eliminated. Savings from cutting seniors from Medicare will go to pay for tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy and some of the savings will help pay for the CHIP program.

This, from a party that says they are against big government? Guess who voted for this scheme to kick seniors off of Medicare? Montana’s only U.S. Congressman — we only have one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives — Greg Gianforte.

I have a better plan. The Healthy Montana Kids Program works. And the CHIP program works. If there are cost savings that can be achieved through cutting waste, fraud and abuse of the program, make that happen. Now is the time for the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the CHIP program and to stop playing chicken with the lives and health care of our children.

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John Heenan is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

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