Congress At Standstill Over Reauthorizing Health Insurance For 9 Million Kids

It’s been 3 weeks since it expired, and several states will run out of money soon.

WASHINGTON ― It’s been nearly three weeks since the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired and bipartisan negotiations over how to finance it appear to be at a standstill, even as several states face critical funding deadlines, which threatens the health coverage of the nine million U.S. children enrolled in the program.

While lawmakers missed a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize the program, which provides insurance coverage for kids in families with lower- to middle-class incomes, most states will not run out of money right away. According to projections by the nonprofit Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 11 states are expected to exhaust federal funding for the program by the end of this year. Another 32 states are projected to run out money for CHIP by March 2018.

The situation in Minnesota is particularly dire, however. Earlier this month, Minnesota received an allotment of unspent CHIP funds from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to maintain two key programs that help provide care for 125,000 children and pregnant mothers. That funding will expire at the end of October.

“We cannot overstate the urgency of this situation,” Minnesota’s congressional delegation in the House warned in a letter to leadership. “Without immediate action, the pregnant women covered by CHIP will be at risk of losing coverage altogether.”

Bipartisan negotiations to reauthorize the program, however, are bogged down over how to pay for it. Republicans want to offset the cost of the program ― some $14 billion per year ― in cuts to the Affordable Care Act’s public health fund. The fund provides almost $1 billion annually to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The GOP bill also increases Medicare premiums for families making more than $500,000 per year.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have balked at the demands, accusing Republicans of threatening to take away insurance for children as leverage to try and undermine the Affordable Care Act.

“Republicans remain fixated on sabotaging the ACA anyway they can,” Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a statement earlier this month. “I reject the premise that we can only offer health care to children by taking it away from others, and, to date, Republicans refuse to budge in that regard.”

Republicans, meanwhile, claimed that Democrats have not made any counteroffer on how to pay for the program.

“If Democrats are serious about funding these important programs, I call on them to follow through on their offer for renewed negotiations. There is too much at stake for partisan games and gridlock,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement on Monday.

A House Democratic aide disputed that characterization on Wednesday, however, insisting that Democrats made several suggestions for how to pay for the program but that Republicans had rejected all of them.

If they do not reach a bipartisan agreement to renew CHIP this week, Walden said, the full House will vote on the GOP-written bill once it returns from recess next week ― a development that could further complicate matters when and if negotiations move to conference between the lower and upper chamber.

Lawmakers have made somewhat more progress on reauthorizing CHIP in the Senate, but there, too, its fate remains murky.

The Senate Finance Committee earlier this month approved its bipartisan bill to reauthorize CHIP, and there appears agreement from members of both parties that it needs to be passed quickly. Unlike the House bill, however, the Senate bill has not identified offsets for how to pay for the program.

It’s also unclear when Senate leadership will take up the bill given the long list of items on their plate for the remainder of this year, including taking action on tax reform, Obamacare subsidies, protections for young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, the Iran deal, and another government funding bill.

Asked about the negotiations on Wednesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, said he hoped to have the program reauthorized soon.

“Had I had my way, we wouldn’t have had that week having to kill Graham-Cassidy,” he said, referring to a last-ditch effort by Republicans to repeal Obamacare.

Wyden also added that he is “concerned about the way the House has handled this in terms of partisanship.”

“I’m going to continue to work with the chairman. Our idea is to get this passed as quickly as possible,” he said.

This story has been updated to include comments from Wyden.



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