Children’s health insurance program in jeopardy

Georgetown University Health Policy Institute

The Missouri Catholic Conference is urging people to contact the state's U.S. senators and representatives to urge continued funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

If Congress fails to extend funding for CHIP soon, then 87,000 Missouri children will be put at risk, according to the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Congress was supposed to fund the program by Sept 30; however, Congress can still extend the funding. Some preliminary congressional action has stalled, and a bipartisan agreement to extend CHIP for five years is sought.

The program provides health insurance for low-income children and pregnant women who have no health insurance and aren't eligible for Medicaid. It provides medical care for children under 19 years of age whose family income falls within certain guidelines.

Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, said CHIP creates access to health care for children. "It's important that kids get off to a healthy start," he said. "If they don't, they may have bad outcomes later in life."

The program is "not only the right and compassionate thing to do, but it's also smart from a public policy perspective that we intervene and make sure kids get vaccinations and help with health issues," Hoey said.

CHIP especially is helpful for families in which parents don't have affordable health insurance, he said.

Through the MO HealthNet for Kids program, children receive full, comprehensive coverage including primary, acute and preventative care, hospital care, dental and vision care as well as prescription coverage.

If CHIP funding ends, only children whose families make below about 150 percent of the poverty line would qualify for government-sponsored insurance through Medicaid.

Affordable, high-quality, consistent coverage is at risk without a CHIP funding extension at current levels. A delayed CHIP extension forces states to freeze or limit children's coverage, according to a fact sheet from Georgetown and the American Academy of Pediatrics. "CHIP has been an important catalyst in the nation's success in covering children, sparking a renewed determination to cover all children by expanding access and enrolling children already eligible for Medicaid," according to material from the two organizations.

A lapse in funding for CHIP has never occurred before, according to the Georgetown center. The program has continued to operate with funds carried over from fiscal year 2017. At least six jurisdictions — Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon — predicted earlier that they would run out of money for CHIP by the end of the year. And other states have said they will notify families before Dec. 31 that their programs face a shutdown even if funding has not yet run out.

Joan Alker, the executive director of Georgetown's Center for Children and Families, wrote Dec. 4 that "the longer Congress postpones action on long-term CHIP funding, the more states will be forced to waste time and money developing contingency plans. The more states that send out notices, the more likely it will be that some kids will fall through the cracks."

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was enacted in 1997 to fill a growing gap in health coverage for children in working families. States have built community partnerships to identify and enroll eligible children and introduced enrollment and renewal simplifications that seek administrative efficiency while promoting enrollment and retention. Separate CHIP programs are often modeled after commercial insurance, using managed care health plans to deliver services and requiring families to pay a share of the expense in the form of premiums and cost-sharing.

Missouri received $159 million in federal CHIP funding in Fiscal Year 2016, according to Georgetown and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organizations state that their research shows that CHIP is a better source of coverage in terms of affordability and child-focused benefits for meeting children's health care needs than the marketplace.

Missouri charges monthly premiums of $19 to $189 for some CHIP children but does not charge cost-sharing for for health care services. 

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