Without CHIP Extension, Kids’ Healthcare Coverage Looks Uncertain

CHIP provides healthcare coverage to 9 million low- and moderate-income children.


Photo via istock.com/asiseeit

Over the weekend, Congress missed its deadline for reauthorizing funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), leaving the insurance status of almost 9 million children, many of them low-income, uncertain. Unless a new plan emerges, the roughly 185,000 enrollees in Massachusetts could feel the effects of that inaction as soon as January, by some estimates.

CHIP provides states with federal funding to help insure children and pregnant women in low- or moderate-income families, providing them with free or low-cost preventative care, shots, dental care, and other health services. Since it was signed into law 20 years ago, CHIP has helped reduce the percentage of uninsured kids in the United States from 14 percent to 5 percent.

Without federal support—which currently provides the bulk of funding, roughly $14 billion last year—the program’s future is murky. Many states have some CHIP funding available for immediate use, but that money will expire on varying timelines. According to a September estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), nine states could see money dry up as soon as this month. Twenty-two others’ coffers, including Massachusetts’, are projected to last only until the winter of 2018.

For most of its two decades, CHIP enjoyed relatively uniform support among lawmakers, although it became more controversial under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A plan to extend CHIP funding was circulating in Washington as recently as last month, but many credit this weekend’s lapse in funding to Congressional upheaval related to failed efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, most recently the Graham-Cassidy bill.

To provide more stability, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission has in the past recommended that Congress extend the program’s reauthorization timeline from every two years, as it stands currently, to every five years. (The September proposal would have bought the program five years of time.)

For now, though, Congress will have to grapple with whether to quickly restore funding for the program, allowing its services to continue with relatively minimal interruption, or allow money to dwindle as it works to come up with a new plan.