TOPEKA — Kansas Medicaid officials are preparing for the day the state has to take over funding a children’s health insurance program if Congress fails to reauthorize the program.
In September, Congress missed the deadline to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. The money Kansas receives to administer that program will expire in March, interim Medicaid director John Hamdorf told a legislative oversight committee Tuesday.
If Congress doesn’t reauthorize the program by March, the state will move children enrolled in CHIP into Medicaid, Hamdorf said. Replacing the federal funds lost would cost more than $90 million by June 2019.
Hamdorf said the loss of CHIP funds was a concern, and contingency plans tied up other much-needed resources in the Medicaid program.
“The longer the time we have to spend doing this, the less we have to fix other problems,” Hamdorf said.
Hamdorf said extra funding for CHIP was removed from a budget proposal from the Kansas Department for Health and Environment at the request of budget officials. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer is working to build the governor’s budget, which will be released in January.
The U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month passed a bill reauthorizing CHIP, but Democrats and Republicans split over how the popular program should be funded. Republicans favored a cut to an Affordable Care Act public health program and raising premiums on upper-income recipients of Medicare.
“It is now up to the Senate to do their job in reauthorizing CHIP,” Michael Byerly, a spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, said in a statement.
Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder said in a statement he was proud to support the extension and called on the Senate to act quickly.
“The program provides coverage to more than 79,000 children in Kansas and ensures they have access to care,” Yoder said.
According to the Associated Press, a deal on CHIP likely will come in a year-end spending bill.
“I’ve been told by a bunch of people not to worry, but it’s my job to worry,” Hamdorf said.
Funding CHIP could be challenging for Kansas, which has struggled to balance its budget in recent years. Legislators overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto earlier this year and rolled back his signature income tax cuts.
The tax increase is expected to bring in an extra $600 million each year, but lawmakers used some of those funds to boost K-12 education spending. They’ll likely have to allocate more money for education after the Kansas Supreme Court found their school finance plan unconstitutional.
Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, said she feared other children’s programs could be in jeopardy if legislators have to make cuts in the budget to take over CHIP funding.
“The pie is only so big and can only be cut into so many pieces,” Appelhanz said.
Amanda Gress, director of government relations for Kansas Action for Children, said her organization had heard from health care providers who are concerned about the program.
“A lot of the providers, whether they’re health care providers or early educators — folks who interact with children — understand what’s at risk here,” Gress said, “and it really is unprecedented for Congress not to reauthorize CHIP.
Eric Pahls, a spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, said in a statement Marshall would like to see CHIP reauthorized. Pahls criticized Democrats for “grandstanding” by voting against the House bill.
“We would love to see quick action from the Senate toward reauthorizing CHIP,” Pahls said. “If the Senate is unable to act, the Congressman would encourage the House to look at alternative routes toward reauthorization in the spending measure coming up this year.”
Despite the lack of reauthorization, children receiving CHIP have not lost benefits.
“As Congress works to decide how to pay for this program, (Jenkins) will work to ensure that the families who rely on CHIP will not see a lapse in coverage,” Byerly said.