Families are counting on Congress to ensure their children don't lose health insurance.
Federal funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) ran out on Sept. 30 after Congress failed to extend financing for this popular, bipartisan program before the deadline. More than 6 million children rely on CHIP and could lose their health insurance coverage if Congress does not act quickly to extend funding.
The end of the calendar year is always a busy time for Congress, replete with competing priorities and a slew of issues that must be dealt with urgently. Ominously, no clear path forward has been laid out to ensure that CHIP rises above the fray.
What is CHIP?
CHIP is set up to complement Medicaid. As a health insurance program, CHIP is there for working families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid coverage for their kids, but not enough to afford private insurance. Created in 1997, CHIP was designed with children in mind and includes child appropriate benefits, access to pediatric providers and cost-sharing limits to protect vulnerable children and families.
But don't kids still have coverage?
CHIP is a federal-state partnership, meaning the federal government and each state partially funds state-specific programs. The federal government pays out money for CHIP in large payments, and most states still have some money left over from the last installment. However, in the coming months, states will run out of these reserves. Already, 14 states have requested and received additional emergency funding from the federal government—but the emergency funding pot is limited and some states will totally exhaust all funding options by the end of the year.
In anticipation of the funding cliff, many states are taking steps to wind down their CHIP programs, and may soon implement wait lists or start informing families they are about to lose their children's health insurance. At least three states are planning on notifying families this week that, without an extension of funding, their children will lose CHIP coverage. Activities like these cost money that could instead be going to children's care.
Is Congress doing anything?
Hearings were held on Oct. 4 in the House and Senate. The Senate and House bills would extend the program for five years, which was recommended by the National Governor's Association, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission and the Children's Hospital Association. Amid strong disagreement about how to pay for the extension, the House ultimately passed their CHIP bill—but the Senate has yet to reveal a legislative plan for this critical program.
The bipartisan agreement for a five-year extension bodes well for kids, but many more steps remain before CHIP’s future is certain. Contact your senators and representative—tell them Congress needs to act quickly to extend CHIP for our nation's children.
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