Congress stumbles again on CHIP funding

AN ABOMINATION’ U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey calls for an extension to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Doctors families patients nurses and residents flank him at Boston Children’s Hospital. Staff

Not this year. CHIP funding expired September 30 as the program got caught up in squabbling over repealing the Affordable Care Act - though CHIP is an entirely separate program.

Supporters of the program hoped that Congress would re-fund CHIP through the continuing resolution it passed to keep the government open on December 8, but that did not happen.

Meanwhile, several states, including Pennsylvania, are on the verge of running out of funding for this vital program. Some states are sending notices to thousands of families that the 20-year-old program soon will need to shut down for lack of cash.

House lawmakers led by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) arranged a stopgap measure to allow states to apply any surplus from last year to fund their programs through the end of the 2017 calendar year.

Alabama became the first state to notify CHIP parents about a potential end to the program, warning parents on Monday, Dec. 18, that state officials will no longer enroll new children into the program starting January 1. The program also offers prenatal care to about 36,000 pregnant women in Texas.

Federal funding ran out about three months ago, and states are using dwindling reserve money to keep things going.

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Because federal law restricts how states can scale back coverage, federally mandated coverage will continue, with Virginia required to take on a much larger share of the cost, according to the governor.

As we said in an October 5 editorial, "CHIP has been a rock on which struggling families could depend since it was created in 1997 during the administration of President Bill Clinton".

Now, it's true that the financial risk to OR is relatively low. That means states like OR which have had to put in their own money to keep the program running would be made whole.

It would cost about $14 billion annually to continue CHIP - a drop in the bucket compared with the $1.5 trillion tax cut envisioned by Congress.

A couple of frustrating ironies stand out in all this: First, this insurance program is an excellent example of how a little bit of government money spent upfront saves considerably more money down the road.

In the last nine years, more than 850,000 kids have enrolled in Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program, according to Miller. Coverage, with an emphasis on preventive care, includes routine checkups, immunizations, doctor visits, prescriptions, dental and vision care, hospital care, and diagnostic and emergency services. The worst part about this second irony is that it's not a surprise.

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