TOPEKA — Health insurance for nearly 37,000 children in Kansas is in jeopardy after Congress failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program by the end of September.
“I’m so disappointed that other things took priority and I don’t think they should over kids,” said Topeka pediatrician Dennis Cooley.
The program’s uncertain future is a concern of pediatricians and family doctors, he said, adding it also causes worry for parents whose children are covered under the program.
The federal program, enacted in 1997, provides coverage for children in low- and-moderate-income, working families, according to Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. Approximately 9 million children are covered nationally.
Cooley said CHIP is a valuable program for families.
“Those kids are getting quality care and preventative care,” he said.
With the lapse in reauthorization, the state is evaluating its options to continue services, Gerald Kratochvil, communications director for Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said. Kansas uses a CHIP and Medicaid-CHIP approach with approximately 37,000 enrolled in CHIP and 42,000 in the hybrid program.
Funds aren’t anticipated to run out until March 2018. However Cooley said that timeline bars an epidemic or natural disaster. And while a worse-case scenario might not strike, uncertainty could lead to parents canceling preventative care appointments.
In other states, such as Minnesota, the situation is already more critical with money expected to be depleted before the end of the year, according to a New York Times report.
“Something needs to be done right away,” Cooley said.
Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, agrees.
“If Congress does not act quickly to reauthorize CHIP, we will jeopardize healthy outcomes for our children and create additional pressure for Kansas’ already fragile budget,” McKay said. “Bottom line — Kansas families will be forced to make an impossible choice: Pay for fewer benefits at a cost they can’t afford or go without coverage for their children. The research is clear that when kids are covered, they are typically healthier; and when they’re healthier, they perform better in school; and kids who do well in school are more likely to grow up to be healthier adults.”
Cooley believes inaction by legislators was political. At the end of September, the program was set to expire which went under the radar. Much of Congress’ focus was on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. He doubted such a lapse would have occurred if 9 million Medicare patients were at risk of losing coverage.
“Kids don’t vote,” Cooley said.
However CHIP has bipartisan support.
“The thing about CHIP is not anyone is really against it,” Cooley said.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins supports the program.
“In 2015, Congresswoman Jenkins joined her colleagues, both Republican and Democratic, in support of extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” her communications director Michael Byerly said. “As of right now, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has introduced legislation to extend federal funding this program along with other public health priorities. The Congresswoman looks forward to reviewing it while listening to Kansans thoughts on this important issue.”
The bill being considered would extend CHIP for five years, but according to the New York Times, squabbles on how to fund the program have cropped up between Democrats and Republicans.