Thursday, December 21, 2017

Congress won't reauthorize CHIP this week, and stopgap funding will fall short, experts say

"House leaders reached a deal on a plan to avert government shutdown, but it won't be enough to help states that are running out of money for their Children's Health Insurance Programs," Susannah Luthi reports for Modern Healthcare. Uncertainty about the program is causing alarm all over the country.

“CHIP is being used as a pawn in larger debates and negotiations,” Linda Nablo, deputy director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, told Robert Pear of The New York Times. “It has fallen victim to the dysfunction and partisanship in Congress. And we are getting very close to the point where some children will also be victims.” Virginia has told parents that the program will end Jan. 31 unless Congress funds it; other states have issued similar warnings.

House Republicans' plan for a short-term spending package to fund the government through Jan.19 would add $2.85 billion to CHIP for the first two quarters of next year. Advocates say that isn't enough, and "Some states have reached a critical point in their programs," Luthi reports. "The plan also includes the controversial provision that House Democrats staunchly oppose, of taking $750 million out of the Affordable Care Act's Prevention and Public Health Fund to help pay for $550 million in funding for community health centers and other programs." In the Senate, Democratic votes are needed to reach the 60-vote threshold for passage. UPDATE: The bill passed Thursday night.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech this morning, "My Republican colleagues in the Senate stand ready and eager to ensure full and long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Nine million children receive coverage through CHIP. They and their parents deserve to know that Congress is committed to them. Republicans agree. We support a provision that would fund CHIP not just for a few weeks, but for five years."

Stopgap bills earlier this year allowed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to move move money "from states that currently have a surplus of funding to programs that are running out of money," Luthi reports. However, that means the surplus states will run out of money sooner. Georgetown University researchers estimates that 25 states would run out of money in January, leaving 1.9 million children uninsured. "Congress must get CHIP done before they leave for the holidays," said Joan Alker, director of the university's Center for Children and Families.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a co-founder of the program and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, "told The Washington Post he remained confident that CHIP will be funded before states run out of money," Robert Samuels reports in a story that focuses on a Republican couple in Utah, parents of boys 3 years and 3 months old, who have become disenchanted with the GOP-led Congress. Private insurance would be “$1,200 for the four of us,” Ashlee Smith, 26, told Samuels. “We can’t pay that and save for a mortgage, or save anything at all.”

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