Congress floats temporary patch for CHIP funding shortfalls

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In its short-term appropriations bill, Congress has included a provision aimed at helping states keep their Children’s Health Insurance Programs afloat while lawmakers try to pass a longer-term measure. But that gesture may not go nearly far enough.

The bill would direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to allocate previously unused CHIP funding first to “emergency shortfall states”—or ones that are in danger of running out of money—before other states. The federal government has already been redistributing funding from past years to states that were facing shortfalls in October and November.

Those shortfalls exist because federal funding for CHIP expired Sept. 30, and Congress’ efforts to pass funding reauthorization measure have been stalled by partisan disputes over how to pay for it. The Senate Finance Committee has advanced its version of a CHIP bill—which doesn’t outline any offsets—while a companion bill, containing cuts to other healthcare programs, cleared the House despite Democrats’ objections.

If Congress fails to pass a long-term CHIP funding measure, at least five states and the District of Columbia predict they will run out of money for the program by the end of 2017 or early in January, according to a survey from the Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. Some states have already sent notices to families advising them to start researching private health insurance options.

The center’s executive director, Joan Alker, also isn’t impressed by the CHIP provision in the short-term appropriations bill, calling it a sign Congress is trying to “kick the can down the road.”

“The longer Congress postpones action on long-term CHIP funding, the more states will be forced to waste time and money developing contingency plans,” she wrote in a blog post, adding, “the more states that send out notices, the more likely it will be that some kids will fall through the cracks.”

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