Federal funding for a program that provides health insurance coverage to roughly 200,000 children in Ohio and 9 million across the U.S. expired more than a month ago, and Congress still hasn’t enacted legislation to restore funding.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has historically enjoyed bipartisan support but has been entangled in a political debate over how to fund the program since Sept. 30.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Friday reauthorizing funding for CHIP for five years. The money for CHIP would come from cutting dollars from a preventive care fund established as part of the Affordable Care Act; increasing Medicare costs for higher-income seniors, and cutting the grace period for those who don’t pay their premiums for ACA exchange plans.
The bill is not expected to make it through the Senate.
“The fact that reauthorization has been delayed for political reasons, for shallow campaign promises, is inexcusable. Our elected officials that are holding this up should be ashamed of themselves,” said Bill Considine, CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital. “The fact that we’re putting those families and children at risk, in the country we live in, there are no words that can justify it.”
Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, has said Ohio’s CHIP funding is set to run out by the end of the year.
In Ohio, roughly $45 million is spent per month on CHIP, roughly 97 percent of which comes from federal funds, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid. In the state, CHIP operates as the Healthy Start Program.
In Cuyahoga County, where about 20,000 kids are eligible for CHIP, about $4.6 million is spent per month.
Children are eligible for the program if their families do not qualify for Medicaid and make up to 211 percent of the federal poverty level (roughly $43,086 for a family of three), according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families. Typically, these are families that are above the financial threshold for Medicaid eligibility.
A loss of the CHIP program would affect kids across the entire county, said Christy Nicholls, interim administrator for Cuyahoga Job and Family Services.
“It would have a big impact to the county,” Nicholls said. “We want healthy communities, healthy children.”
She said the county sees kids with varying degrees of medical issues on the program.
Considine, who has led Akron Children’s Hospital for 38 years, said delays in funding are hurting patients, their families and healthcare providers.
“The real concern about this delay is the uncertainty and the message that we’re giving to these nine million families,” said Considine, who related stories of parents losing sleep, worried about the future of their children’s health insurance coverage. “I’m just worried about the emotional damage this is doing.”
He said the hospital has not yet been financially affected by the lack of CHIP funding but would be if funding were never restored.
“We’d raise rates to other people or cut out certain services,” he said.
Hospitals already are struggling to remain in the black as healthcare costs continue to rise, and Considine has seen healthcare providers back away from providing pediatric services that are challenging when it comes to reimbursement, such as mental health and behavioral services.