9-year-old Danielle Highley is representing CHIP kids at the State of the Union

Danielle Highley of Montana. (Photo: Courtesy of the Highley family)

With President Trump’s State of the Union address aimed at trade and immigration, it’s likely that much of Tuesday night’s media coverage will center on the two dozen so-called Dreamers in the audience.

But for parents of children who rely on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), all eyes will be on Danielle “Dani” Highley. The 9-year-old from Montana was invited to attend the event by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who recently fought to keep the program afloat.

Ahead of the State of the Union address, here is what you need to know about Dani and CHIP itself.

Why is Daines bringing someone?

Historically each lawmaker is allowed to bring one guest to State of the Union address (the president is allowed 24 guests). Senators often choose someone symbolic of a cause or piece of legislation for which they have fought.

Why did he choose Highley?

Highley is one of 9 million children nationwide who rely on CHIP for health insurance. In her state alone, there are 24,000 kids who use the insurance. Daines is one of many senators who demanded the reauthorization of the program. Highley represents the reason why he did it.


Photo: Courtesy of the Highley family

What is CHIP?

The Children’s Health Insurance Program is a joint state-federal program that provides free or low-cost insurance to families who do not qualify for Medicaid. It was created in the mid-1990s by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. In 2009, President Barack Obama expanded the program by $35 billion, covering an additional 4 million children through 2015.

Why is everyone talking about it now?

CHIP’s funding expired in October, causing states to run out of funding and parents who rely on it to panic about how they’ll cover their children’s medical expenses without it. Last week, Republicans revived it — tacking a six-year CHIP extension onto their short-term spending program. The move was an overtly political one, aimed at encouraging Democrats not to shut down the government over something else they wanted the bill to include: protection against the deportation of Dreamers.

Where does CHIP stand now?

After a three-day government shutdown, lawmakers agreed to pass the short-term spending bill on Jan. 22. The move both reopened the government and reauthorized CHIP for six more years.

What does CHIP actually do?

CHIP covers the health insurance of children, up to age 19, from low-income families who don’t qualify for Medicaid. The program works by allotting a certain amount of federal funds to each state, based on enrollment, and allowing the states to structure their own plans. Of those covered, 90 percent are families earning at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line (that’s roughly $40,480 for a family of three).

How does Highley fit into this?

Daines told Highley’s story on the Senate floor on Jan. 18, urging his colleagues to support CHIP’s reauthorization. Highley was born with a rare form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which left her unable to walk at 18 months old. The autoimmune disease is fueled by inflammation, which causes stiffness in the joints, swelling, pain, and vision problems. The medicine to treat it is a bimonthly injection that costs upward of $6,000. Through CHIP, Highley was able to get access to the treatment and resume walking. Without it, she has to be carried around the house by her mom and is in too much pain to go to school.

How does Highley feel about attending the event?

In an interview with local TV news show “Montana Right Now,” Danielle’s mom says Daines called her personally to invite her daughter, and that both of them were thrilled. In a video of the two, a smiling Danielle expresses her excitement, saying she’s planning to wear a “blue dress with white stars all over it.”

And what does Daines think?

In a statement sent to Yahoo Lifestyle, Daines expressed his commitment to the cause. “It is great to be here with Dani for her first trip to Washington, D.C. Dani and the 24,000 Montana kids who depend on CHIP can now rest assured they’ll continue to have access to critical health care,” said Daines. “These kids are worth fighting for.”

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