In a hastily-thrown-together funding package passed just before Christmas, Congress agreed to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six months, backdated to September when they allowed the program covering roughly 9 million children and pregnant women to expire. That nearly $3 billion emergency stopgap was supposed to carry CHIP until the end of March, but states are reporting that they could run out of money in just a few weeks.
The Trump administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now says it can only guarantee full funding for all states through late January, sparking uncertainty for millions of low-income families across the country.
“We appreciate that Congress included funding for CHIP in the continuing resolution that runs through January 19, 2018,” CMS spokesperson Johnathan Monroe said in a statement to TPM. “The funding included in the CR should carry all the states through January 19th based upon best estimates of state expenditures to date.”
CMS is “unable to say with certainty” whether the stopgap funding passed by Congress will allow every state to continue its CHIP program through March 31. The agency is currently in talks with the hardest hit states, though exactly when funding will run out for whom is a “moving target.” Certain factors, including the hurricanes and floods that have hammered Texas, Florida and other states, have drained the funding reserves faster than expected.
Already, some states have begun to send out notices to families warning them that their children’s insurance may no longer be available in the coming months.
While Congress ultimately passed a six-month stopgap for CHIP and a handful of other health programs in frantic budget negotiations in late December, the original plan was to pass a full five-year reauthorization of the program. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate came together in a rare moment of agreement on the substance of the CHIP bill, disagreeing only on how to pay for it. Republicans have demanded that CHIP be funded by making deep cuts to the Affordable Care Act’s prevention and public health fund, a choice Democrats strongly oppose.
Those arguments may now be much easier to solve.
On Friday, the Congressional Budget Office released a revised estimate of the cost of funding CHIP for five years, dropping the bill down from more than $8 billion to less than $1 billion. The CBO says that Republicans’ move to kill Obamacare’s individual mandate is likely to significantly raise premiums in Obamacare’s individual market—which is where many children and parents are likely to turn if CHIP disappears—costing the government a lot more in subsidies. Thus, by running up the cost of failing to fund CHIP, Congress has made it comparatively much cheaper to renew the program.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in a floor speech last week, called on his colleagues to get it done.
“Partisan objections forced Congress to settle for a short-term patch,” he said. “This month, we can set this right. I know that colleagues on both sides of the aisle are eager to find a long-term solution. Five years, full reauthorization. Let’s get this done for working families.”