Routt County families uncertain about CHIP’s future
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, ended in September when Congress finished out the fiscal year without any action on renewing the health care plan.
Now with time running out in 2017, families in Routt County and across the nation are left hanging while legislators in Washington, D.C., attempt to work out the finer details of a children’s health care plan, which has been in place for nearly 20 years with bipartisan support.
“It’s an absolute need,” said Kelly Keith, Routt County human services director. “I think there are a lot of people that are really wanting Congress to make the right call.”
CHIP provides health and dental coverage to nearly 9 million children across the U.S. and an estimated 90,000 children and pregnant women in Colorado rely on the program each year.
Erin Miller, vice president of Health Initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said the numbers for the Children’s Health Plan Plus (CHP+) vary, but the importance of these programs does not.
CHP+ is what CHIP is called in Colorado, and Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, non-partisan children’s advocacy group.
Miller said the delay by politicians in Washington has not yet impacted the programs in Colorado, but if something is not done soon, families in Colorado will be receiving notices by the end of December.
“The goal for November is to make sure that families have their information updated on the PEAK system, so that the state can get in touch with them, so that if letters do have to be generated at the end of December, everyone in the programs gets it,” Miller said. “That letter is going to be important for showing that you do qualify for an open enrollment period. I think folks are hoping that Congress acts before then, but we want families who are eligible for CHIP coverage to enroll in CHIP coverage and use CHIP coverage.”
According to Miller, CHIP is a great benefit plan for kids and pregnant women.
“It’s got a good pediatric-focused network and good pediatric benefits that are not necessarily present in exchange programs,” Miller said. “There is also a good dental benefit that is available with a separate co-pay structure.”
If the government can’t find a solution, end-of-the-year notices will be sent out to families who are impacted, and those families will then get an extension to apply for exchange programs through Connect for Health Colorado, Miller said.
CHIP provides federal matching funds to states to provide health care to children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but who can’t afford private coverage. The legislation to create the program was sponsored by Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy in partnership with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.
When Congress failed to act this fall, the immediate impact was felt in many states, but Colorado had enough in unspent federal aid to continue the program through the end of January 2018. But as the end of the year approaches, many families could start getting notices that the program will be ending.
“We have done the math, and family cost would go up like 1,000 percent if they have to shift from a CHIP plan to an exchange plan,” Miller said. “CHIP is much more affordable and has a better benefits package.”
Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, could reauthorize the programs across the United States.
The Senate bill would extend the CHIP programs for five years. The first two years would be funded at current funding rates and would include a federal match for CHIP that was enhanced under the Affordable Care Act.
Right now, Colorado gets 88 percent of the cost of CHIP covered by the federal government. In the third year, under the proposed Senate bill, those enhanced rates would be cut in half, and the last two years of CHIP reauthorization would go back to the regular pre-Affordable Care Act match rates.
“It’s a pretty good compromise policy,” Miller said.
The House bill takes another approach, which includes tying the bill’s passage to cuts to Medicaid and Medicare. It would take funds from the Prevention and Public Health fund to pay for CHIP.
Keith would not speculate on whether the bill would pass but said that if the program goes away, it will definitely impact families in Routt County. A family of four can make up to $63,960 a year and still be eligible for CHP+.
“It is really the people that you would not consider lower income,” Keith said. “It’s the working people that are going to be impacted by this.
Republican Senator Gardner cosponsored legislation in October to extend funding for CHIP and released the following statement:
“I’ve cosponsored legislation to reauthorize CHIP funding through 2022, and I’m urging my Senate colleagues to move quickly on this bipartisan issue,” Gardner said. “Senator Bennet and I have been very vocal about the need to address this, and it appears there’s a path forward to creating long-term certainty for a program that roughly 90,000 Colorado children and pregnant mothers utilize.”
For more information about the future of the CHP+ program, visit https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/hcpf/future-child-health-plan-plus-chp.
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