Left on Hold for the Holidays, CHIP Families and States Still Waiting

As the last legislative action of 2017, the US Senate finished work just before Christmas on the House-passed Continuing Resolution, which provides funding to extend government operations through January 19, 2018. Long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was not included in the legislation and instead Congress instituted yet another short-term patch for CHIP. Congress is now approaching 100 days past the deadline to extend funding for CHIP and states continue to take extraordinary — and costly — measures to try and protect the children and families relying on this popular, bipartisan program.

With bipartisan agreement on a strong, five-year funding extension and promises throughout the year that a CHIP extension would get done before January, states and families were counting on Congress to do its job. But Congress again punted action on CHIP with that short-term funding patch. This is an unprecedented abdication of responsibility and creates a shameful burden for vulnerable families who spent the holidays worrying about coverage for their children.

Congress has repeatedly signaled its broad and bipartisan support for CHIP, which would be in line with CHIP’s 20-year legacy of cooperation and success. And Congress assured states and families time and again that they would fully fund CHIP before 2017 ended. While the December legislation includes a $2.85 billion funding patch, this amount will not be enough to carry states through to the next CHIP deadline in March.

Meanwhile, states have been spending unbudgeted dollars and working with federal staff to postpone the day of reckoning when children will lose coverage. The Iowa Department of Human Services has used staff time and drafted letters that would have to be mailed out to thousands of families about dwindling money for CHIP, which is known as hawk-i (Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa). Iowa officials expect money for hawk-i to run out at the end of March or possibly April without more federal funding.

Unfortunately, states’ willingness to bend over backwards to maintain coverage for kids has been a source of leverage by both parties’ leadership to fight for other priorities, on the assumption that states will continue to be the adults in the room and string along their CHIP programs by any means possible. The department also has an internal work group exploring options such as whether to recommend freezing hawk-i enrollment, switching all affected kids to regular Medicaid or ending hawk-i entirely.

States have clearly signaled that they cannot keep those schemes afloat much longer. It appears inevitable that enrollment freezes or disenrollment in some states will happen before CHIP is rightfully extended.

Once again, Iowans should speak out and demand that Congress stop politicizing health care coverage for kids by immediately and properly funding CHIP.