Advocates call for long-term funding of children's health program

Advocates call for long-term funding of children's health program
© Greg Nash

Children’s health advocates on Thursday called on lawmakers to pass a long-term funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Federal funding for 9 million low- and middle-income children is set to expire at the end of September, setting up a crucial deadline for a Congress already grappling with other high-stakes battles.

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CHIP has historically been a bipartisan affair, and during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, lawmakers indicated there wouldn't be any major issues with reauthorizing the program.

“Personally, I’m optimistic about this committee’s chances,” said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Lobbying world MORE (D-Ore.), the committee’s ranking member. “It’s important for Congress to take action soon. There’s no kicking this can down the road with a short-term bill. And this cannot wait until December.”

The sticking points are the duration of the reauthorization, whether any other measures will be attached and whether to continue enhanced federal matching funds that were first included in the Affordable Care Act.

Witnesses said a five-year funding extension would provide the most stability.  

“There’s tremendous uncertainty in the health care markets,” which is why a five-year extension is needed, said Anne Schwartz, executive director of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

A two-year CHIP reauthorization passed in April 2015, months before the program was set to expire, and the provision was included in a larger Medicare reform package.

But lawmakers are bumping up much closer to the deadline this year. States will need to make difficult decisions soon about what actions they will need to take if Congress doesn’t act by the deadline.

The longer Congress waits to renew the program, the more likely it will be that states have to impose enrollment slowdowns or even cancel policies.

Additionally, since states have assumed CHIP federal funding in their state budgets, the majority of states will face a funding shortfall if Congress doesn't extend federal funding.

“We're dangerously close to the wire,” said Linda Nablo, chief deputy director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services.

“I’ll take anything at this point, but five years or longer would be a very welcome thing for states,” she said.

Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah) said he thinks policy changes are needed for the program, but he understands time is of the essence.

“Some are justifiably concerned that, given the number of issues that are already before the committee, there may not be time to give full and fair consideration to CHIP reforms prior to the expiration of federal funding,” Hatch said.