While everyone was busy debating the Affordable Care Act last week, the future of another far less controversial health program fell into doubt.
Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has long attracted broad bipartisan support, lapsed on Sept. 30 after Congress failed to renew it. As the deadline approached, lawmakers were clashing over Republicans’ ultimately failed attempts to repeal the ACA.
CHIP provides inexpensive health insurance to children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford their own insurance. Like Medicaid, the program is funded with federal and state tax dollars, but the feds pick up a heftier share of the tab for CHIP.
CHIP covers 9 million children nationwide, including 22,310 in Maine, up to age 19.
While Congress is now scrambling to act, states face the daunting prospect of losing federal funding for CHIP. Some are due to exhaust all of their funds before the end of this year. That could leave many children without health insurance to cover doctor visits, medications, and hospitalization.
Maine’s CHIP program (formerly known as Cub Care) is funded through this fiscal year, which ends in June 2018, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. So we’re not facing an imminent deadline like several other states.
But next summer isn’t that far away, and the state has not announced any kind of backup plan for CHIP in the event that federal funding dries up. Some states are considering freezing enrollment or discontinuing coverage, and meanwhile dipping into reserves of unspent federal funds. While Congress blew the Sept. 30 deadline, many states have enough money in reserves to keep providing coverage — at least for now.
Like nearly every other state, Maine assumed that CHIP funding would continue in developing the state budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. That includes an extra generous matching rate from the feds included under the ACA. Addressing a future shortfall would likely mean calling a special legislative session and/or action by Gov. Paul LePage since the state budget already (barely) passed.
As of this week, Congress is moving toward restoring funding for CHIP. Whether lawmakers can agree on a plan in time for states to avoid cutting children’s coverage remains to be seen.