Congress is debating how to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for the next few years, and if one proposal that is on the table passes, many low income families in Connecticut could suffer because of Washington’s actions.
Congressional Republicans, now in the majority in both chambers, have a plan that would prohibit states from using any federal CHIP funds for families with incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line, which Connecticut currently does, and reduces funding for families with incomes between 250 and 300 percent.
The bill also allows states to impose waiting periods of up to 12 months to enroll in CHIP, increasing the uninsured rate of children, which has been greatly reduced since its start in 1998. For example, after Arizona dropped CHIP in 2010, as many as 14,000 children there lost their health insurance. That could happen across the country, and in Connecticut, if this federal mandate is eliminated.
Funds currently run out at the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30, though, many states (including Connecticut) are busy drafting their budgets now for the fiscal year starting July 1. Governor Malloy’s budget estimates that in FY 2016, over 14,000 children will be enrolled in HUSKY B, which is the program for children in families whose incomes are too high for traditional Medicaid coverage.
President Obama’s FY 2016 Budget includes $11.9 billion over the next ten years for CHIP, extending funding through FY 2019 to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to ensure that families have continuous coverage. It also proposes to extend the option for states to use Express Lane Eligibility (ELE) to enroll and renew children in CHIP in a quicker, simplified process. ELE allows families whose eligibility information has already been collected and verified to streamline enrollment of eligible children into Medicaid and CHIP.
Congressional Democrats have introduced bills in each house to extend CHIP. In the Senate, all 45 Democratic Senators, including Connecticut Senators Blumenthal and Murphy, have cosponsored S. 522, the Protecting and Retaining Our Children’s Health Insurance Program Act of 2015. In the House of Representatives, 47 Democratic representatives, including Connecticut Representative John Larson, have cosponsored H.R. 919, the CHIP Extension and Improvement Act of 2015. These bills mirror the President’s proposal.
The debate on how to extend CHIP is sure to continue for the next six months, and may well become wrapped up in debates over the future of health care reform in general, especially if the Supreme Court rules against tax subsidies in states with Federal marketplace states.
Congress should act soon on CHIP reauthorization to separate it from the more polarizing debate over the ACA as a whole, and the actions to follow. We will continue to watch the debate in Washington and provide updates about what will happen to this valuable and vital program.