The just-seated 114th Congress — filled with 71 new faces including 55 Republicans, many who campaigned on a promise to repeal Obamacare — needs to separate partisan health issues and agree to extend a program for low-income kids before funding runs out, said Deborah Feldman, CEO of Dayton Children’s Hospital.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined Feldman on Monday calling on Congress to move quickly to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provides coverage for more than 150,000 Ohio children before it expires in September, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid. More than 5,000 children in Montgomery County are now covered, according to Brown’s office.
“We have a lot of new representatives and senators in Congress and it’s important for us to educate them on these programs. This is one of those federal programs that really works,” Feldman said. “We know there are some folks in Congress who feel like some federal programs aren’t as effective as they could be … With all the conversation that’s taken place over the last number of years with the Affordable Care Act, I think it’s important that people understand (CHIP) is a program that stands alone and it needs to continue to stand alone.”
Brown will be the lead sponsor of legislation to reauthorize the funding of the federal program that covers more than 8 million children nationwide. Ohio’s senior senator said the program has enjoyed a strong history of bipartisan support and allows children to grow up healthy so they have better shot of succeeding from birth through school to adult citizen.
“It’s about starting life. It’s making sure that child is well,” Brown said. “Think about what this means for kids’ health and, what it means for their learning and school. It’s clear that providing health insurance to low income children is not just the right thing to do it’s the smart thing to do for the future of our state.”
Enacted in 1997, CHIP is a state-federal insurance program for children and pregnant women in low to moderate income households not eligible for Medicaid. In Ohio, the CHIP program is an extension of Ohio Medicaid, providing coverage to children in households with income under 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The state would stand to lose $146 million in 2016 without congressional action, according to an October report by the Georgetown Center for Children and Families and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Providers such as Dayton Children’s Hospital want Congress to act sooner rather than later so continuous care for children isn’t jeopardized, said Dr. Maria Nanagas, medical director of the Children’s Health Clinic at Dayton Children’s.
“Without federal action I feel we might undo over 17 years of progress connecting kids to health coverage and care they need to develop and reach their full potential,” she said. “Extending CHIP funding is essential for continuing our work uninterrupted. We cannot wait until later in the year, even though CHIP doesn’t technically run out until September. We cannot risk any gaps in care. Even a short gap in funding can have a negative impact on the care of children.”
Nanagas pointed to the children of Karen and Joe Brown of Dayton, no relation to the senator, as an example of kids who might fall through the health care cracks without reauthorization. They were at the clinic for an early wellness exam for 6-year-old daughter Cheyanne. Sons Conner, 8, and Troy 9, also get annual checkups and shots and Conner has also been diagnosed and treated with sports-induced ashthma at the clinic, Karen Brown said.
“This has been a place for me to bring these guys to keep them better through a lot of ear infections. I dont know what I’d do without it,” she said. “Without it I couldn’t afford half the medications.”
While Nanagas is concerned with children getting checkups and scheduled immunizations and vaccinations on time, state lawmakers and administrators have an eye on the budget calendar and a potential fiscal shortfall should Congress allow CHIP to expire.
In a November letter, John B. McCarthy, director of Ohio’s Department of Medicaid, told Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, that due to state’s budget process, “Ohio and other states need clarity on what Congress plans to do sooner rather than later.”
About 95 percent of Ohio children receive medical coverage through Medicaid, CHIP, and private insurance, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid. The uninsured rate for children treated at Dayton Children’s is about one percent, according to the hospital.