Congress on track to miss two big health deadlines

Congress on track to miss two big health deadlines
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Congress is at risk of missing two deadlines for health programs impacting millions of people, as funding is set to expire on Saturday.

The House has yet to release a bill to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) just days before the deadline. The Senate has released a bipartisan five-year bill to reauthorize the program, but a vote hasn’t been scheduled.

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Separately, billions of dollars to fund community health centers — a safety net for 26 million people — are also up in the air.

The recent push to repeal ObamaCare sucked the oxygen out of the room in terms of getting both across the finish line before bumping up so close to the deadlines. 

It was “very hard to work on CHIP and [community health center] reauthorizations, while Republicans are simultaneously trying to upend the entire health care system,” a Democratic aide wrote in an email.

Senate Republicans announced Tuesday they wouldn’t vote on the latest ObamaCare repeal bill from Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyEnergy Department clears ‘small-scale’ natural gas exports for fast approval GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Lawmakers pitch dueling plans for paid family leave MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Graham: Flynn should lose security clearance Press needs to restore its credibility on the FBI and Justice Department MORE (R-S.C.). They ran out of time after losing three Republicans, since the fast-track budget maneuver they were using to repeal ObamaCare without Democratic votes expires Saturday.  

States won’t exhaust their CHIP funding immediately. Three states and Washington, D.C. are expected to run out of money by December, and the majority of states will deplete their federal dollars by March, according to a July report from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

A more recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 10 states would run out of money by the end of year (of the 41 states and Washington, D.C., that responded to the survey).  

But advocates said this still creates an uncertainty for states that have planned for the funding to continue.

“It impacts state budgets because the vast majority of states have assumed in their budgets — and of course, most of them are already done with their budgets — that Congress would still fund CHIP at the full level that it’s authorized for,” said Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee spokesperson noted that “we continue to have bipartisan negotiations.”

During a debate Wednesday on the House floor to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration program, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) stood next to a large calendar with the Sept. 30 date circled and the words “CHIP expires” written in red.

She noted the FAA bill doesn’t include funding for CHIP and community health centers, saying “this is a real crisis that still can be averted in just a few minutes of time — now and not later.”

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) responded: “I talked specifically with the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Greg Walden [D-Ore.], who is very excited about the opportunity to move the CHIP bill.”

“The opportunity to do this is not dire or urgent, as a matter of fact there is money in the bucket right now to fund as it has been, the program to continue,” Sessions said, pointing to the recent Medicaid commission report.

The panel had been examining coupling CHIP funding with money for community health centers and other extenders. There’s also another bipartisan bill in the House that would extend funding for these health centers for five years with moderate increases.

ObamaCare created a special trust fund for community health centers — and that was extended again in 2015 to the tune of $7.2 billion for two years. This pool of money accounts for more than 70 percent of the federal grant funds for community health centers.

The Senate Health Committee is the panel of jurisdiction in the upper chamber, and hasn't announced a path forward.

"Chairman [Lamar] Alexander [R-Tenn.] is working with his colleagues and the administration to extend funding for community health centers this year,” Taylor Haulsee, a committee spokesman, wrote in an email.

In early September, more than 70 national groups sent a letter to congressional leaders where they pointed to the stakes:

“According to [the Department of Health and Human Services'] own estimates, a failure to renew these funds would lead to loss of 51,000 jobs, closure of 2,800 [community health center] delivery sites, and a loss of access to care for more than nine million patients,” the groups wrote.

Nathaniel Weixel contributed.