As states prepare for federal dollars funding a children’s health insurance program to run out, Congress could take steps to continue the program it failed to reauthorize in September, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said Wednesday.
Moran, a Kansas Republican, stopped in Topeka to tour the University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus. He said he expected a vote by mid January to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
“It certainly is a top priority for me,” Moran said.
Congress failed to reauthorize CHIP in September despite wide bipartisan support for the program. Without reauthorization, federal dollars that fund most of the program would disappear. States could have to pick up the tab, or families could lose coverage for their children. Kansas Medicaid officials told legislators last month federal CHIP funds for Kansas children would expire in March, leaving the cash-strapped state on the hook to fund the program. That would cost $90 million by June 2019, they said.
Other states’ money was set to run out sooner, prompting Congress to pass a stop-gap funding measure last week. Moran said that short-term fix was done.
“But we still need to get our work done in regard to reauthorization and full funding for a long period of time so we get rid of the uncertainty,” Moran said. “No family ought to be worried about whether or not CHIP is going to be available to care for their children.”
Moran said Senators have argued over how to pay for a continued CHIP program. Republican senators this month passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut aimed at individuals and small and large businesses.
“I don’t see a scenario in which CHIP is not funded,” Moran said. “I just want it done sooner rather than later so that we get rid of the uncertainty for both health care providers — but more importantly, for the patients they serve.”
Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, said he wasn’t sure how confident he was that Congress would act on CHIP soon.
“On CHIP, Senator Moran — like everyone else — has been saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to get to it. We’re going to get to it. We’re going to get to it,’” Weisgrau said.
Moran said Congressional leaders had also promised an opportunity to vote on legislative items aimed at stabilizing the individual insurance markets set up to sell policies under former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Republicans’ tax bill also repealed the “individual mandate,” a provision of the ACA that requires people to have health insurance. Moran said stabilization efforts would be intended to lessen destabilizing effects of that repeal.
Critics have said repealing that requirement will destabilize the market and make insurance more expensive for those who buy individual policies.
Weisgrau said stabilization efforts, like cost-sharing reductions that subsidize discounts for consumers buying insurance, would not make up for the destabilizing effects repealing the mandate would have. He said without the mandate, young, health consumers may opt out of buying insurance, leaving a pool of sicker, more expensive people buying insurance. That would further increase the price of insurance premiums, he said.
“All the problems that the ACA has solved — and it has solved a lot of problems regardless of what you think of it — are just getting unraveled,” Weisgrau said.
Moran helped sink bills this summer that would have repealed and replaced the Affordable Care Act, but he voted for the tax bill. He said his goal is to protect provisions of the ACA, like the promise of coverage for those who suffer from pre-existing conditions, but he wants to tackle the rising cost of health care and health insurance.
“Before we get into the issue of who pays for health care, we ought to be spending a lot more time trying to figure out — why does it cost so much in the first place?” Moran said.
Officials in the offices of Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not immediately return requests for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report