The health coverage of an estimated 8.9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women lies in the hands of Congress, which has yet to reach on agreement on how to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
CHIP is an extension of Medicaid providing government-funded health insurance to children and pregnant women from families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance.
Congress missed the Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize federal funding for CHIP.
“The problem… is one of benign neglect,” stated Karen Remley, CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a press release. “As efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act dominated the agenda in the Senate, needed attention to CHIP was lost.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe stated in a letter to the Virginia Congressional Delegation “partisan infighting and dysfunction” in Congress have jeopardized Virginia’s CHIP-funded program, the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security program, or FAMIS.
According to the McAuliffe letter, an estimated 66,000 children and 1,100 pregnant women in Virginia depend on FAMIS to access medical services. Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services, DMAS, estimates that 1,185 of those children live in Richmond.
In response to McAuliffe, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) stated in a press release of his own “scaring families via press release is not helpful.”
“It is completely disingenuous to insinuate that I or any other member of the Virginia congressional delegation are ignoring reauthorization of this important program,” Taylor stated. “In fact, the present delay is a result of a request by the minority party (Democrats) to further negotiations on offsets.”
In the Senate, the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act, or KIDS Act of 2017, was quickly sent to the House with bipartisan support. If ratified, the KIDS Act would extend federal funding for CHIP through fiscal year 2022.
“Sen. Warner recognizes it is essential that CHIP is reauthorized,” said Jonathan Uriarte, the deputy press secretary for Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.). “And the KIDS Act is an imperfect but needed compromise to continue funding these necessary healthcare services for children.”
But the KIDS Act does not specify where funding for CHIP would come from. Republicans in the House tried to tackle this dilemma by passing the Championing Healthy Kids Act, which will increase certain Medicare premiums and decrease Obamacare enrollment to offset the cost of CHIP.
Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said on the House floor the Healthy Kids Act would extend CHIP “without adding to our country’s deficit.” On the other hand, Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) said the bill is “loaded with poison pills that would undermine the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid.”
According to medical assistance services, CHIP in Virginia cost more than $304 million in fiscal year 2017. A large portion of that cost is paid by the federal government, and McAuliffe stated that Virginia is expected to exhaust those federal funds by Jan. 31, 2018.
“Unless something changes, (the Department of Medical Assistance Services) will be forced to send letters on Dec. 1, 2017 notifying families of the impending loss of coverage,” McAuliffe stated. “Enrollment will be frozen Jan. 1, 2018, and by Jan. 31, Virginia will have insufficient federal funds to continue the program.”
Alan Rodriguez Espinoza, Contributing Writer