Congress Messes Up: Fails to Renew Children’s Health Insurance Program by Sept. 30 Deadline

Last Saturday, September 30, Congress let the Children’s Health Insurance Program lapse. When the program was reauthorized in 2015, Congress set September 30, 2017 as the deadline for renewal.  If Congress can get its act together, it can still vote to renew the program. But the longer Congress waits, administrative and fiscal problems will grow for the states who are partners in this effort, and medical problems will loom for children when coverage is threatened.

There is widespread concern that failure to renew CHIP on time is a symptom of Congressional disfunction.  On September 18, Senators Orin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced a bipartisan bill to reauthorize CHIP, but momentum collapsed in the Senate during the late-September debate over the Graham-Cassidy bill to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Writing for the New Republic, Clio Chang quotes Bruce Leslie, president of the children’s advocacy group First Focus: “There was growing attention and movement towards getting this done and then Graham-Cassidy came up and everyone stopped talking to us about it. It was hard to get meetings after that, to talk to people about the Hatch-Wyden bill.  People were like, ‘No we’re 24/7 on Graham-Cassidy’… It just dumbfounds me that they’re not doing this… It’s a no-brainer.”

In her Washington Post column, Valerie Strauss explains that the failure to renew children’s healthcare legislation cannot be without consequences for the nation’s public schools. CHIP is a health insurance program for children in poor and moderate-income families: “If action is not taken soon to restore the funding, the effects will become obvious in schools across the country, with many of the children in the program unable to see a doctor for routine checkups, immunizations, visits when sick and other services.” According to Strauss, the program cost to the federal government in 2016 was $13.6 billion.

CHIP currently covers 9 million children. Writing for Roll Call, Rebecca Adams explains: “CHIP was instrumental in boosting the share of children nationwide who have coverage from 86 percent in 1997, the year Congress enacted it, to 95 percent of U.S. children today.”

CHIP is a federal-state partnership with funding provided by the federal government (and enhanced in some states through their own budgets) and the states administering the program. Adams explains that the impact of Congressional failure to renew the law on time will affect states differently depending on whether they have any program money left unspent: “States can use two-thirds of any leftover money until it’s gone, leading some lawmakers to suggest that the deadline is not a hard one.”  Minnesota will be the first state to run out of money: “The state would likely be out of money for coverage of low-income children and pregnant women by the end of September… Minnesota is the first state to hit a funding crisis, but others are on the cusp.  Nine other states are projected to face a shortfall by the end of the year… By late March, 32 states would likely drain their money.”

Adams continues: “There are complicated consequences if the funding deadline lapses. If Congress were to take longer than a couple of weeks beyond the deadline to renew the program, some states plan to take steps toward capping enrollment or shutting off coverage entirely… Every state would also face the hassle and costs of preparing for changes and training their staffs… Most states do have budget cushions that would protect their programs for at least another month or two… And parts of CHIP would halt completely Sept. 30.  For instance, states would lose the ability to expedite enrollments or the renewal of a child’s benefits in CHIP by using information from other programs such as State Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, or the food stamp benefits…. That so-called ‘express lane’ process has helped kids get covered without delays.”

The failure to renew CHIP is puzzling because there seems to be widespread bipartisan support for the program.  Adams wrote her Roll Call piece on September 25, days before the deadline. Describing comments from Congressional representatives and their staffs to explain lack of attention to the CHIP deadline, Adams reports that most everyone said Congress was distracted by the debate about the health care exchanges in the Graham-Cassidy bill:  “(T)he health care law exchanges get far more attention. Lawmakers blame this year’s chaotic legislative fights over the law as the primary reason they have been distracted from passing routine, bipartisan updates to existing health care programs that are expiring and must be renewed in order to function… Federal lawmakers say they are doing their best in a year fraught with tensions over the direction of the country, an ambitious agenda, an unpredictable electorate and a nascent presidency that Republicans want to use to reshape the federal government’s role in Americans’ lives.”

It is a tragedy that healthcare for the nation’s most vulnerable children fell by the way. Please let your Senators and your Representative know that you want the Children’s Health Insurance Program renewed as soon as possible. Here is a link to the Action Alert provided by the Network for Public Education.

6 thoughts on “Congress Messes Up: Fails to Renew Children’s Health Insurance Program by Sept. 30 Deadline

  1. Thank you for this info. But I can imagine the same platitudes with the loss of CHIP that we hear every time there is a shooting: do our representatives really care or are they going through the motions?

  2. Jan, all you need as a headline for this article is the first three words: “Congress Messes Up.”
    This is a disgrace. And I don’t buy the excuse that they were “distracted by the debate about the health care exchanges.”
    What, they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? Are they all suffering from either an extremely short attention span, or senility? (And who else does that sound like? His initials are DJT.)
    If they can only wrap their brains around one thing at a time, then they all need to go. They are either ignoring or playing politics with our children’s health. Unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.

    • While they may have been “distracted” and thus didn’t get around to the vote, how do they manage to avoid helping our nation’s poorest children who need health care but NEVER miss a vote arguing that these same poor children must face standardized test after standardized test…

      • Yes, ciedie aech, that is an interesting question, isn’t it?
        Basically, if they want to screw children or the poor or the sick or the suffering, they can find the time and inclination to vote for legislation that will do so. But anything that might help kids or others, especially if it costs anything, why, no, no they suddenly don’t have the time.
        I’m tired of all of them. They are mean, selfish people who only care about the very wealthy and the big businesses.

  3. Hellfire & damnation is just not good enough for these “il bastardos profundos!” A Letter to the
    Editor, recently recast as ‘Dialogue,’ in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer {10/3/17:A18}, by Bernard A. Mason, MD, argues that Obama’s legacy is not the ACA which GOPers tried over 50 times to Repeal & Replace!!!! But the “ground has shifted under their feet” from healthcare as privilege to healthcare as “a right.” No matter who you are, how you do or don’t look, gender or age, we just ain’t gonna take it no mo’! We ain’t gonna take it no mo’! Sen. John McCain did us all a favor, not just the demented republicrats, in cementing this newfound value into place! If kids made it past
    their preschool stage [as we certainly hope], they would be caught up in the web of vaccinations & concerns of public health: thank G-d, huh? But these days childhood nutrition or lack thereof draws attention to the 22% who are malnourished & its effect(s) on learning or what school is all about. When we don’t pay for this now, the future costs increase exponentially, although our first thoughts must be humanitarian & what poverty/deep poverty means to our youngest citizens. The future is now, not later. It has always been so, just quicker in the electronic age into which we have unwittingly entered.

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