Congress misses deadline for children’s health insurance program

The clock is ticking for local children who are covered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which Congress missed the official deadline to renew.

The 20-year-old federal program covers children from families that don’t qualify for Medicaid but still need assistance covering health insurance. The remaining money for the insurance program for children will run out in Ohio around the first quarter of next year if Congress doesn’t pass new funding for it, and then the state would be obligated to pay those health bills.

Ohio combines CHIP and Medicaid together, though Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks health care data, says Ohio CHIP enrollment breaks out to 223,583 in fiscal year 2016.

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Congress missed the Oct. 1 deadline to extend CHIP, though the House Energy and Commerce Committee is now is working on a five-year extension of the program as part of a larger funding package. The Washington Post reports House Republicans have also included an extra $1 billion in Medicaid for Puerto Rico as part of the proposal.

Dayton Children’s Hospital reports more than 50 percent of its patients get covered through CHIP or Medicaid, and the independent pediatrics hospital has been urging that the program to be renewed.

“We’re still cautiously optimistic that they’ll be able to come to some agreement,” said Jessica Saunders of Dayton Children’s Center for Community Health and Advocacy.

Saunders said the uncertainty is stressful for families who have children covered under this program.

“We’re still hopeful there will be a bipartisan agreement before they run out,” she said.

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A provision under the Affordable Care Act means Ohio has to keep up the same level of service under the program, which means the insurance program will need to continue even if Ohio doesn’t get money from the federal government to fund it.

“Even if the federal government turns off the resources, the state has a legal obligation to ensure that children have that access,” said Loren Anthes, public policy fellow with Center for Community Solutions, an Ohio think tank.

Anthes said the program’s renewal typically doesn’t run into problems, but the politics around health care repeal and replace bills seem to have affected the normal course of business for Congress.

“This is unique in so far as Congress has not acted on what is an exceedingly popular and important program to maintain coverage for children,” he said.

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