Kids deserve attention of Congress with CHIP

Published 9:19 am Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Decatur Daily on the failure of Congress to provide funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

Keeping up with the goings-on in Washington D.C. is a dizzying proposition, and it’s seldom rewarding.

Take, for example, Congress’ failure to provide long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly called CHIP. Funding expired in September. Congress recently passed a stopgap meaure that will restore funding for three months, but state health departments and the families they serve are struggling  to predict whether the program will remain intact.

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Alabama and other states had been using reserve funding to keep children and teens of low-and moderate-income families insured, but that money is running out.

CHIP funding pays for th health care of two groups of children in Alabama – about 83,400 in a program called All Kids and 74,900 children on Medicaid.

All Kids, through CHIP, is paid for solely with federal money, unlike Medicaid, which has state money blending into the coverage. That means, if Congress fails  to permanently renew CHIP funding, more than 83,000 Alabama children will be without affordable access to health care.

Until the stopgap funding bill passed, Cathy Caldwell, director of Alabama’s CHIP program, had planned to send letters to families with children covered under All Kids the day after Christmas, informing them of the looming cutoff. Presumably that letter no longer will be necessary this month, but congressional inaction on a long-term funding solution is a threat to the program and to the lives of children.

If the CHIP funding expires, the state will have to step up its contribution to Medicaid, which can’t be rescinded.

All Kids serves families with higher incomes, up to about 318 percent of the federal poverty line. Some premiums and copays are required.

One of the main holdups in passing a permanent funding solution is that the House version of the funding bill includes cutting an Obama-era health program, and increases in Medicaid premiums for upper-income recipients. Those changes won’t go over well in the Senate.

The Senate had passed a bill to extend CHIP funding for five years, but senators are at loggerheads over how to pay for it.

The Republican-controlled Congress is feverishly working to reconcile tax bills that will weaken many public health programs in a desperate attempt to claim some sort legislative victory before the year limps to an end. Priorities in Washington are seriously out of focus.

Alabama has little money to spare because of its own broken tax system and must rely heavily on the generosity of the federal government to sustain basic services.

Lawmakers here and in the capital must reorder their priorities and pay more attention to the needs of the people they represent.