Friday, September 08, 2017

Senate committee debates how to fund Children's Health Insurance Program, expiring Sept. 30

The debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is still going strong, but there's another health-care program with a firmer deadline looming. The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony Thursday about how to extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program. Federal funding for the popular $15 billion program will expire Sept. 30 if no provisions are made, Ken Terry notes for Medscape. CHIP has enjoyed wide bipartisan support since Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) co-authored the original bill in 1997. Since that time the uninsured rate for children has decreased from 9.6 million to 3.3 million, a drop of more than 67 percent.

There are two main possibilities for how to move forward with CHIP. "Hatch noted that Congress could either reauthorize CHIP, which he said would require extensive debate and possibly policy changes, or it could extend CHIP short-term because there isn't enough time for a policy debate before CHIP funding expires," Terry reports. But while Hatch favors extending CHIP, fellow Finance Committee member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) favors a reauthorization. "A short-term extension, he said, would just mean kicking the can down the road, and putting off a decision until December would lead to some states running out of CHIP money."

At the hearing, Anne Schwartz, executive director of The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress on Medicaid and CHIP issues, said the commission recommends a five-year reauthorization of CHIP to reduce uncertainty for states during this "transitional period" of health care reform. In January the commission had also recommended that Congress extend the increase in federal matching rates for CHIP through 2022. "The Affordable Care Act (ACA) raised those rates by 23 percentage points through 2019, so this would be a 3-year extension. Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have federal matching rates of 100 percent, and 22 other states have rates of 90 to 99 percent. These higher rates have persuaded some states to expand children's health coverage, Schwartz said."

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