Kelsey Whitby of Whitefish, with her son Otto in arms, speaks Friday afternoon

In this Nov. 17, 2017, file photo, Kelsey Whitby of Whitefish, with her son Otto in arms, speaks at a press conference on the Children’s Health Insurance Program along with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock.

Thom Bridge, thom.bridge@helenair.com

Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock took to the Capitol rotunda Friday to rally support for a federal program that funds health insurance for 1,083 kids in Helena and some 23,000 statewide.

Tester, a Democrat, said “providing kids with health care is a no-brainer,” which is why he recently introduced bipartisan legislation to keep the Children's Health Insurance Program funded for the next five years. 

Congress has allowed the funding for CHIP to expire. Some 8.9 million children nationwide are currently enrolled in the program. 

In Montana, CHIP and children's Medicaid both partially fund Healthy Montana Kids. Together, they provide health care coverage to one out of every three children in Montana. 

“If Congress doesn’t act soon, the program right here in Montana runs out of money in the first quarter of 2018,” Tester said.

“That is unacceptable," he added.

Bullock, also a Democrat, followed Tester’s tack, calling attention to CHIP’s impact on Montana families' ability to maintain health insurance for their children.

It doesn’t matter if a parent works at “Microsoft or McDonald’s,” Bullock said, “no parent should wonder if their paycheck is large enough to care for a sick child.”

“This is not a partisan issue in Montana,” Bullock said. “Republicans in Congress are turning their backs on children.”

Republican Sen. Steve Daines previously said CHIP is critical for Montana, and Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte said the program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Both Republicans said they expected Congress to reauthorize CHIP soon. 

Bullock and Tester appeared Friday with Kelsey Whitby, a Montana State University graduate who lives in Whitefish with her husband and her 10-month-old son Otto.

Whitby was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2012, the same brain cancer John McCain was diagnosed with earlier this year. As she told her story and her first-hand experiences with nannying children who benefited from CHIP, her son, dressed in a suitcoat sans shoes, kept trying to grab the microphone, adding some levity to the event. 

With CHIP, “parents don’t hesitate to call a pediatrician,” Whitby said.

“Children don’t have a voice in their own health care,” which is why parents and adults have to give them a voice, Whitby added. 

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Reporter at the Helena Independent Record.

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