A rare point of agreement in America’s polarized health care debate is that children should have access to medical insurance.

It’s cost effective, for one thing. Most children are healthy, and checkups and immunizations will help them stay that way. And we are not a nation that turns its back on kids when they get sick.

That’s why Congress should act now to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.

Created by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1997 and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton, CHIP has helped cut the rate of uninsured children in the U.S. in half over 15 years, to around 7 percent.

It expands Medicaid eligibility to millions of children. In Missouri, for instance, adults must make less than 19 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible for Medicaid. But children can be insured at household incomes as high as 300 percent of the poverty level, depending on a family’s assets and other options.

The program is funded largely through federal block grant monies channeled to states. Last reauthorized in 2009, funding is set to expire in September 2015.

Reauthorizing the CHIP funding is a job that Congress can, and should, get done now. States must start working on their own budgets and negotiating contracts with insurers at the beginning of the year. Those tasks will suffer if the federal allotment remains uncertain.

It is essential that Congress fund children’s health insurance at generous levels. Studies have shown the CHIP program delivers quality care at cost-efficient prices. It offers health care specific to children, and often for lower out-of-pocket costs than private insurance plans or those offered through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. Among other things, the Children’s Health Insurance Program offers dental care, a benefit that can save thousands of dollars in long-term medical expenses.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, as the ranking Republican on the health finance subcommittee, can play a crucial role in moving the funding along. The Children’s Health Insurance Program began as a bipartisan measure and should continue as one.

— The Kansas City Star