National Consumers League

For the Children’s Health Insurance Program, no news is NOT good news


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92_johnson-300.jpgSince its enactment in 1997, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage for low-income children, has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress and in turn, been reauthorized regularly without issue--until now. It’s been more than two months since the September 30 deadline to reauthorize CHIP came and went without any Congressional action. While lawmakers maintain that CHIP will be reauthorized eventually, for the nine million children and pregnant women that rely on the program for their healthcare, “eventually” may be too late.

Like so much else in our current political climate, this lapse in CHIP funding is unprecedented. With Congressional Republicans hard-pressed for a legislative victory before year’s end, CHIP will likely continue to take a back seat to other must-pass measures such as tax reform and the government spending package. In the meantime, many states are scrambling to find funds to keep CHIP running. As of now, emergency reserves and temporary funding agreements have allowed states to maintain coverage for the millions of Americans who might otherwise be uninsured, but these short-term fixes are not sustainable. In fact, medical officials in some states have already sent notices to families informing them their coverage is in danger of being disrupted. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 16 states are projected to deplete their federal CHIP funding by January 2018, and another 32 will exhaust their funds by March 2018.

Should Congress not renew CHIP, the response to the loss of federal funds will vary based upon how CHIP is implemented in that particular state. For states whose CHIP programs are funded through Medicaid expansion, they are still required to cover those beneficiaries, regardless of federal funding. However, with the cost burden shifted completely to state governments, funding for other critical programs such as infrastructure or education will likely be redirected. On the other hand, for the 1.2 million beneficiaries in states with CHIP programs not married to Medicaid, they are likely to lose coverage completely. At that point, families would have to seek more expensive employer-based or marketplace alternatives--but of course, there is no guarantee that they will be able to afford those options.

Despite the lack of urgency in Washington, state governors around the nation are urging Congress to read the writing on the wall. On December 12, a bipartisan group of 12 governors signed a letter to Congressional leaders imploring them to work across the aisle to find a solution that will provide funding for CHIP without a disruption in coverage for its millions of beneficiaries. The inaction by Congress in reauthorizing this vital program has not only already costed hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, but has caused unwarranted chaos and stress for states and families. Moreover, ensuring children have access to regular doctor visits, immunizations, essential prescription medications, and emergency services should not be a partisan issue or a bargaining chip. We have made historic progress in decreasing the number of uninsured children and ultimately improving their health outcomes--much to the credit of enrollment in CHIP. There is no question that if CHIP is not reauthorized, we will undo much of this success.