ST. GEORGE — The United States Senate passed legislation Thursday extending funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The question remains as to whether this short-term fix will be enough to help those children relying on the long-term initiative written and championed by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Currently serving 20,000 children in Utah and 9 million nationwide, CHIP was the product of a bipartisan effort in 1997 between Hatch and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. Federal funding for the program expired Sept. 30 and has yet to be renewed.
While Hatch has proposed bipartisan legislation with Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden extending the program for five years, Thursday’s extension – part of a bill averting a weekend federal shutdown – is designed to keep state programs operating through March.
However, according to a report from The Associated Press, some Republicans said federal officials think the money would run out by early February.
The Senate is expected to vote on Hatch’s five-year extension in early January, Hatch’s office said in a statement; however, with no long-term funding agreement imminent, The Associated Press reports growing numbers of states have begun edging toward depleting their federal funds and commencing steps to cope with that.
According to a survey conducted by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation in November and released this month, 14 of the 24 states that reported 2017 data and have a separate CHIP program were planning to end or phase out coverage for children. Five states, including Utah, were planning to end coverage by the end of January.
A separate study by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families estimated that without the money from Thursday’s short-term extension, 25 states would run out of money by the end of January, with 1.9 million children potentially losing coverage.
It remained uncertain how those states and others would react to the latest infusion of federal money.
Alabama recently warned it would stop registering new beneficiaries on Jan. 1 and halt the entire program a month later. The state’s director of the CHIP program, Cathy Caldwell, was quoted Friday in an article at The Hill as saying they are unsure if the temporary extension would change that.
The state is “really still assessing,” Caldwell said. “We don’t understand all of it yet, so I’m just really not sure yet.”
Although Congress has stepped in and provided eleventh-hour money twice in recent months, the will-they-or-won’t-they drama has put pressure on state officials about how to respond. They say they need lead time to keep recipients abreast of the status of their assistance and to adjust their programs if there’s a chance state allotments might change.
Utah’s neighbor to the east, Colorado, has sent letters to recipients warning that their coverage may be canceled.
“We’re just hoping Congress does the right thing and doesn’t put politics in front of people’s health, in front of children’s health, in front of pregnant women’s health,” said Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a Democrat.
In comments made on the Senate floor Thursday, Hatch said a five-year extension of CHIP was “essential,” adding:
While the proposed short-term patch offers some funding relief, in my view, a long-term reauthorization is essential, so that states, including my home state of Utah, can plan into the future and the families that benefit from CHIP can be sure that coverage for their needy children won’t just disappear.
Senator Hatch delivered following remarks about CHIP on the Senate floor.
I’d like to take a moment to discuss the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
As we all know, the authorization for CHIP expired at the end of September. Since that time, states have been utilizing their reserve funds in order to cover the health care needs of kids. And, for a number of states, those funds are due to run out in the near future.
There have been a number of claims from our friends on the other side and some of their allies in the media that Republicans have ignored the CHIP program, that we don’t intend to reauthorize it, or that we supposedly placed a higher priority on “tax cuts for the rich” than on providing health insurance for needy children.
These claims are ridiculous.
I come at this issue from two angles, Mr. President. I am both the original author of CHIP and I currently chair the committee with jurisdiction over the program.
No one should doubt my commitment to continuing the CHIP program. For two decades now, I have been a supporter of CHIP and have worked with members of both parties to keep it moving forward and functioning properly – even in times when my Democratic colleagues have pursued a more divisive approach with the program.
That commitment continues to this day.
On October 4, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously reported a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize CHIP for five years.
In my view, a long-term reauthorization is essential, so that states, including my home state of Utah, can plan into the future and the families that benefit from CHIP can be sure that coverage for their needy children won’t just disappear.
It appears that the year-end continuing resolution could include a short-term reauthorization for CHIP. That’s far from ideal and, as the leading advocate for this program, I have no desire to see it become subject to repeated short-term fixes and constantly looming deadlines.
Mr. President, I intend to continue working with Senator Wyden, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both the Senate and the House, to enact the KIDS’ Act in a fiscally responsible manner as soon as possible. Doing so is essential to providing certainty for families and states.
I ask unanimous consent that the next portion of my remarks be placed in a separate part of the record.
ALAN FRAM of The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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