Congressional inaction leaves states squeezed on CHIP funding

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on oral health and the author of “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.” She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

With Congress failing to meet a Sept. 30 deadline to extend federal funding, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) now is facing an uncertain future.

Established 20 years ago, CHIP provides medical and dental coverage to nine million children from lower-income families whose incomes are slightly too high to qualify for Medicaid.

The program has enjoyed bipartisan support over the years. The current funding situation has left supporters deeply concerned.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Jesse Cross-Call, senior policy analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) told Walecia Konrad for a report at CBS News Moneywatch.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that because of congressional inaction, 11 states could run out of federal CHIP money by the end of the year. An additional 32 states are expected to use up their funds by March 2018, Konrad noted.

Benefits for 1 million Texas children also are at stake, reported Caroline Kelly, a Washington correspondent for the Dallas Morning News.

The “Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimated that the state program would run out of funding in January instead of February, in part because of demands following Hurricane Harvey,” Kelly noted.

Baltimore Business Journal reporter Morgan Eichensehr warned readers that CHIP coverage for more than 140,000 children in Maryland remains “in limbo.”

“Legislators can still make moves to continue funding CHIP, but the longer that takes, the greater the number of children at risk of losing their health care,” Eichensehr wrote.

“At least 11 states, including Pennsylvania, California and Ohio are expected to run out of CHIP funding by the end of year,” she reported. “Maryland has a little more leeway – representatives from the Maryland Department of Health said their state’s program is fully funded through March 2018. The potential loss of federal funds for fiscal year 2018 is estimated at $53 million for Maryland,” she wrote.

Disagreements between the House and Senate on how to fund the program have slowed progress on a resolution, Kelly reported.

“Should the House and Senate pass the bills, having to reconcile their differences could push CHIP renewal into a catch-all spending package that Congress plans to tackle in December,” she wrote. “But that may be too late for some states. Minnesota has received $3.6 million to tide the state’s CHIP program over until the end of October, and Utah filed an amendment in September to start cutting eligibility and benefits as funding runs out.”

Eichensehr reported that states might need to have special legislative sessions to determine how to continue operating their CHIP programs if funding runs out.

“And some states, like Arizona, have statutes in place that require an enrollment freeze if the current federal match rates decrease,” she wrote. “If states discontinue CHIPs coverage due to lack of federal funding, enrolled children would have to be transferred to their parents’ employee plans or ACA marketplace plans, and many could become uninsured.”

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