On Monday, House Republicans introduced a short-term spending bill that will fund the government until Dec. 22. The measure will maintain federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care for almost 9 million low-income children in the U.S. The temporary bill is necessary because Congress neglected its responsibility to reauthorize CHIP earlier this year. Despite wide bipartisan support for CHIP, debates over the Affordable Care Act and Medicare have prevented Congress from replenishing it.
This has led to anxiety and confusion among states. According to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, states still have money left over from previous allotments in 2015, but it won’t last much longer: “Unless Congress acts to renew funding, all states will experience a shortfall in CHIP funds in FY 2018.” MACPAC expects Arizona, Minnesota, the District of Columbia and North Carolina to run out of money for CHIP by December (the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2018).
Kansas is one of 27 states that is projected to “exhaust all available federal CHIP funding, including redistribution funds” by the end of the second quarter (March 2018). CHIP provides health insurance for 37,000 Kansas children. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Svaty recently called upon our congressional delegation to reauthorize CHIP funding and said the program shouldn’t be used as a “political pawn used as leverage for support of other programs of less importance. If you can ensure that at least 37,000 Kansas children in need can keep their health care coverage, you cast that vote without hesitation.”
Although the U.S. House passed a bill that reauthorized CHIP last month, there was a stark partisan divide (only 15 Democrats voted for it, while three Republicans voted against it) due to the controversial cost offsets that would fund the program. As Kaiser Health News explains, “The House agreed to charge higher premiums to wealthier Medicare beneficiaries, cut money from the ACA’s preventive health fund and shorten the grace period for ACA enrollees who fail to make monthly premium payments.”
Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. summarized the view of many of his colleagues in an October statement: “It’s clear that House Republicans want to use reauthorization of children’s health insurance and Community Health Centers as a way to further undermine the Affordable Care Act and weaken Medicare.” Republican Rep. Greg Walden argued that Democrats were refusing to negotiate: “There is too much at stake for partisan games and gridlock.”
But that’s exactly what American families have been getting for the past few months: partisan games and gridlock. Meanwhile, states are struggling to figure out what to do amid all of the uncertainty and bickering in Washington.
Colorado recently sent out letters to CHIP beneficiaries warning them that the program may come to an end. A notice on the Utah Department of Health’s website informs visitors that “CHIP coverage will likely end on January 31, 2018” if the government fails to reauthorize the program. And in Kansas, interim Medicaid director John Hamdorf says the development of contingency plans for CHIP’s possible expiration is consuming valuable resources and time: “The longer the time we have to spend doing this, the less we have to fix other problems.” If CHIP doesn’t get reauthorized, Kansas would have to spend $90 million on a replacement by June 2019.
Families in Kansas and around the country shouldn’t have to wonder if their children’s health insurance program will still exist in a few months. Congress needs to stop dithering and fund CHIP immediately.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.