With Halloween upon us, we are enjoying the playfulness of costumes and trick or treating. As we are passing out sweets to all the cute ghosts and dinosaurs, we should be concerned that families are wondering whether the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will be available to their children in the coming months and years.
As of September 30, Congress allowed funding for CHIP to expire. This puts at risk health insurance coverage for nearly 9 million children, which is scary. In early October, committees in each chamber of Congress made some progress by passing similar legislative language extending CHIP funding for five years. This is an example of the longstanding bipartisan support for CHIP and is certainly something to celebrate. However, the House version of the legislation contains other policy proposals and worrisome methods of covering the costs of CHIP funding. This means that House and Senate leadership are still negotiating how to pay for CHIP, and there are clear signals that they still have not come to an agreement.
Unfortunately—despite Congress’ progress—the urgency of refunding the program is only increasing. Last week, the Georgetown Center on Children and Families released a report outlining the consequences of Congress’ delayed action. As the report notes, the children most at risk of losing coverage live in states with CHIP programs that are running out of funds more quickly. Some states like Minnesota might run out of funds as early as November while other states could run out of funds by December or early January. Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and the District of Columbia are among the states slated to run out most quickly. This means that kids could lose coverage, including a disproportionate proportion of children of color because those states enroll some of the highest percentages of children of color.
Meanwhile, making changes to CHIP takes time and states cannot complete the necessary steps moments before they exhaust their funds. Even states that estimate their funding will stretch a bit farther into 2018 have already started taking action to wind down their program. Colorado, Texas, Virginia and Washington all plan to send notices to families in December alerting them that their coverage is ending. Utah has taken an even more significant step by submitting a plan to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to close their program once they exhaust their funds.
Children, families and states need swift action to address the uncertainty around CHIP funding. Despite ongoing efforts to reach consensus on how to pay for CHIP, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that he would hold a floor vote on the House’s version of the CHIP funding legislation this week. This House vote threatens the bipartisan support that CHIP has had for more than 20 years. As the House moves forward with a vote, Democratic leadership argues Republicans are pushing ahead on partisan terms rather than working together to identify ways to pay for CHIP funding that would not harm other people.
We must be loud and clear that Congress should pass a five-year extension of CHIP funding with bipartisan agreement on both policy and funding. Our little ghosts and goblins deserve it.