Governors implore Congress to renew children's health funding

Governors implore Congress to renew children's health funding
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The National Governors Association is urging Congress to fund critical health-care programs — including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers — before the year ends.

Lawmakers failed to reauthorize money for CHIP, health centers and other health programs by Sept. 30. The funding lapse has frustrated officials and advocates, who say the uncertainty is causing angst for those charged with running these programs.

“These disruptions have not been without consequences, and we write to convey that further delay into 2018 will only compound the issues facing our states and vulnerable citizens,” the leaders of the NGA’s Health and Human Services Committee wrote in a letter Wednesday to congressional leaders in both chambers on behalf of the association.

On Monday, congressional aides and lobbyists said progress was being made on a bipartisan deal to fund these programs by the year, though one has not yet been announced.

CHIP programs are funded by both the state and federal government.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has given nearly $607 million in redistributed funds to help states continue to run their CHIP programs. Five states and Washington, D.C., could run out of money by the end of December or early January, according to an Oct. 25 report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families.

“Absent congressional action, states will be forced to take steps including the notification of thousands of families of the loss of CHIP health care coverage. Taking steps to avoid those worst-case outcomes places a tremendous administrative and financial burden on states and sows confusion among vulnerable populations,” the letter states.

At issue for community health centers is the expiration of a fund that represents about 70 percent of federal grant dollars for these centers, which serve roughly 26 million of the nation’s most vulnerable people. The centers haven’t seen less money, but they might soon, as about 25 percent of health centers’ grant periods begin on Jan. 1 and another 17 percent on Feb. 1, according to a spokesperson for the Health Resources and Service Administration.

The uncertainty has created anxiety for health centers and has already led to hiring freezes.

The House passed a bill on a party-line vote to fund both CHIP and community health centers with Democrats decrying how Republicans wanted to pay for the bill. The Senate Finance Committee passed a bipartisan, five-year CHIP bill but hasn’t released the legislation’s offsets.