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Hillary Clinton criticizes CHIP funding lapse in Pa. appearance

| Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, 8:54 p.m.
Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers keynote during the Geisinger National Symposium, 'From Crisis to Cure: Revitalizing America's Healthcare System,' on November 9, 2017 in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Getty Images for Geisinger Sympo
Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers keynote during the Geisinger National Symposium, 'From Crisis to Cure: Revitalizing America's Healthcare System,' on November 9, 2017 in Danville, Pennsylvania.

DANVILLE, Pa. - As first lady, Hillary Clinton championed the Children's Health Insurance Program, and she's sounding the alarm now that the program looms dangerously close to losing its federal funding.

“We have every reason to be nervous... and a good health system like Geisinger knows firsthand how important the Children's Health Insurance Program has been,” she said during an on-stage conversation Thursday with Dr. David T. Feinberg, Geisinger Health System's chief executive officer.

Clinton was the keynote speaker at Geisinger's National Healthcare Symposium, an invitation-only conference titled “From Crisis to Cure: Revitalizing America's Healthcare System” to discuss health policy and practice.

“This is the first time where we're really playing roulette with these kids and their families,” Clinton said of the threat of a Children's Health Insurance Program funding lapse. “Because states are going to start shutting down these programs because they don't have a funding stream.”

The federally funded insurance program known as CHIP covers more than 176,000 children of needy families in Pennsylvania. CHIP's routine funding package expired Sept. 30, and lawmakers have yet to agree on funding it again.

Geisinger billed the conference as “bipartisan” and included a pre-recorded video address Thursday morning from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, who could not attend in person because Congress is in session.

“Hillary Clinton is one of us,” said Virginia McGregor, a Scranton resident and Geisinger Health board member, as she introduced the former U.S. senator and secretary of state.

Clinton several times referred to McGregor as a friend, noting the Scranton resident invited her to speak.

She entered the room before a few hundred people with a slight limp and used crutches off-stage. She sprained her foot in London while promoting her new book, she said, and expects to recover in a few weeks.

Seated in stuffed armchairs on stage, she and Feinberg tossed ideas back and forth for about 40 minutes on matters such as nutrition and the opioid drug addiction crisis - a matter that came up frequently during the three-day event.

“Just in 2016, Pennsylvania lost more than 4,600 people to drug overdoses. That's more accidental deaths of any other cause of accidental deaths in Pennsylvania,” said Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped in to address a smaller crowd earlier in the day.

Expanded Medicaid and a tighter prescription drug monitoring system in Pennsylvania is helping to rein in a raging epidemic of drug addiction, he said, though there's still work to do.

Clinton took shots at President Donald Trump, who recently declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency but did not commit any more federal money to stop it.

“It's disappointing to me that the new administration has only given rhetorical support,” she said. “There's no plan, there's no new money, there's no leadership. So communities and health systems are pretty much left on their own.”

Clinton had a firm grasp on not only national, but global health issues, and probably would have been a great president, said Robert Naismith, one of the founders of what is now the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton. He also applauded Feinberg's vision, which is lifting Scranton and the surrounding area, he said.

“Our medical school now will become a national model - is a national model - because of his leadership,” Naismith said.

On stage, Clinton and Feinberg talked about her husband Bill Clinton's heart problems and his resulting commitment to a plant-based diet to get well. She still prefers meat with her dinners, while Bill Clinton sticks to vegetables, beans and occasionally fish, she said. They also discussed their daughter Chelsea Clinton's career in public health.

She said she regrets putting too few individual stories in front of the Affordable Care Act debate during in its early days to help raise more support for it, she said.

“I think we missed the boat on defending it and explaining it better than we did,” she said.

Thursday marked one year from the day she conceded the presidential election to President Donald Trump. She made no mention of her presidential bid.

At the end of their talk, Feinberg thanked her, and noted that, if not for her campaign, the “ultimate glass ceiling,” will never be broken.

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