Distracted Senate Drops the Ball on Important Reauthorizations – Significant Impacts on Low-Income Families Possible

Despite an announcement of a deal on Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) reauthorization a few weeks ago, the Senate took no action when they quickly shifted attention to Graham-Cassidy. The program’s authorization expired last Saturday. Nine million children are covered by CHIP, with over 60,000 children covered in Washington State annually. Contradicting prior reports, Washington is expected to exhaust CHIP funds by November because of the increased expenditures typically claimed at this time of year. Governor Inslee sent a letter to the Congressional delegation this week urging them to support CHIP and cautioning that the Health Care Authority would otherwise need to send letters by December 1, terminating coverage to families with income between 250 and 312% of the federal poverty level.

Congress has also not taken action on the community health center (CHC) fiscal “cliff” – which would cut CHC funding by a significant 70%. A cut of this magnitude would force an estimated 2,800 clinics to close – an estimated 9 million people would lose access to health care and 50,000 people could lose their jobs.

There is still time to act! States have not run out of money for CHIP yet (and no children have been removed from coverage yet) and CHCs fiscal years have not started, but lack of action creates uncertainty for states, families and clinics. The Senate Finance Committee passed a bipartisan bill yesterday that extends CHIP for five years, phasing out the 23 percentage point bump in the federal matching rate, but preserving other important health programs. The House Energy and Commerce Committee took up both CHIP and CHC funding yesterday, but their legislative package also includes changes to the phase out of Disproportionate Share Hospital Payments, additional funds for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program and worrisome changes to Medicaid and Medicare to pay for CHIP funding. Although the two chambers agree on CHIP policy, they continue to negotiate on additional measures to be included in the legislative package and how to pay for CHIP funding. It may take some time for this to be sorted out.

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