Congress Eyeing Bipartisan CHIP Deal Ahead of Budget Deadlines

This appeared November 28, 2017 on HealthLeaders Media.

By Jack O’Brien

Members of Congress are reportedly making progress on a bipartisan deal to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as states brace for budgetary cliffs created by the current funding lapse.

Negotiations among lawmakers, staffers, and lobbyists took place over Thanksgiving weekend, and an extender bill for CHIP funding will likely be included as part of a larger package to fund health centers and Medicare services, The Hill reported Monday, citing unnamed aides. The package could either be voted on as its own bill or as part of the broader budget negotiations taking place on Capitol Hill.

Federal funding for the $15 billion program, which provides health coverage to nine million children from families with incomes too high for Medicaid, lapsed on September 30. Congress has until December 8 to approve a budget plan to avoid a government shutdown.

The nightmare scenario is close by now as we are 2 months past CHIP’s expiration,” said former Medicare and Medicaid chief Andrew Slavitt in a tweet Sunday.

Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik noted that CHIP has received bipartisan backing since it was created 20 years ago and that it has been widely regarded as effective.

“In recent years, however, even the principle of providing health coverage for children has become infected with budget-hawk ideology,” Hiltzik wrote Monday. “In 2015, budget brinkmanship resulted in CHIP’s getting reauthorized for only two years. This time around, the program got shunted to the back burner as the deadline approached because congressional Republicans could think only about trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

An editorial in The Dallas Morning News on Monday admonished Congress for failing to extend health coverage for low-income children. The newspaper cited the need to act quickly to ensure 400,000 Texan children who utilize CHIP don’t lose their coverage, especially those still recovering from the damage caused in August by Hurricane Harvey.

“Texas is one of at least five states that say they have no choice but to alert families and begin winding down programs that provide crucial care for low-income children,” the editorial noted. “Letters could go out as early as this week noting that service will be disrupted if not outright ended.”

This comes as Colorado began sending out informational letters Monday urging parents to explore private insurance options as a precautionary measure as the state expects its share of federal funding to run out January 31. Advocates fear that families who enter the private insurance market will not be able to afford coverage, which would increase the uninsured rate among children.

While states await news on how Congress will address the upcoming funding cliff, CMS has already begun redistributing $607 million in remaining funds. Nearly a dozen states are expected to run out of funding by the end of the year, with another 20 likely to join them by the end of January 2018.

In addition to not renewing CHIP funding, Congress did not provide the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) with its $3.6 billion budget. CHCF assists health clinics in providing care and financial support to low-income patients.