Congress can't even handle health care for kids

Sen. John Barrasso, Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mc Connell, Sen. Bill Cassidy and Sen. John Cornyn hold a news conference following their weekly policy luncheon

The program provided federal funding to states to provide health care for children.

The 20-year-old Children's Health Insurance Program is gap insurance for low-income families who don't qualify for Medicaid.

Federal support to insure around 9 million American children, including more than 48,000 in West Virginia, quietly expired at midnight Sunday as Congress failed to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program. Currently, the federal government picks up 88 percent of the cost of CHIP in Maryland, and if funding runs out, that would drop to 50 percent, costing the state about $160 million a year. "Good stewardship has created a reserve in funding, so health care coverage for 160,000 children and youth in Alabama, who benefit from CHIP, will continue at least through February", Alabama Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar said this week.

The fate of the Affordable Care Act may be deeply divisive, but there's one aspect of the health care system that retains broad support across the political spectrum - the Children's Health Insurance Program. Without the new money, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates 2,800 health center sites would close and eliminate more than 50,000 jobs and access to care for about 9 million patients.

State officials are among those pressing Congress to re-up funding for the program.

"States don't want to have to disenroll their kids", said Maureen Hensley-Quinn, senior program director at National Academy for State Health Policy, a non-partisan group that advises states on health policy. In some states, CHIP also covers pregnant women's maternity care. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, at a U.S. House Rules Committee hearing, he aimed to assuage their concerns.

Another nearly $10 billion is projected to come from shifting money set aside for Obamacare's prevention and public health fund to community health centers, and from changes that would help state Medicaid programs avoid medical costs from people who have health coverage from other sources.

That change alone, he said, would boost state spending by $10 to $15 million.

"We're continuing to operate as normal", she said.

Advocates said they hope Congress can act quickly to renew the program, to keep the state from sliding backwards after recent "historic gains" in coverage. Five other states -Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, Texas, and West Virginia - will soon be forced by their own laws to begin winding down the program or freeze enrollment if the feds don't act. "But I feel certain that in the next month or two, we will have to start shutting the program down".

When is Congress likely to act? "Cuts in federal funding mean that there are fewer services available for kids in schools where they receive really important things related to their health, and of course if they have their health they're better prepared to learn", he explains. Hatch and Wyden's compromise is still alive in the Senate, and Axios reported the Senate Finance Committee will mark the bill up on Wednesday. I think there's a question of priorities, and we're hopeful that Congress will hear from constituents that states that CHIP is really a critical program for kids health, and hopefully we'll see them move on something quickly. Many states operate their CHIP programs as part of Medicaid. It is that authorization - and more to the point, the funding - that is awaiting renewal.



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