As Congress jousts over the funding of a major insurance gap program for children, millions of them may soon lose insurance coverage. Funds are dwindling for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and nowhere are children in as much jeopardy as in Texas.
CHIP has become an accepted tool for ensuring that children have at least minimal health coverage. But the federal program is the latest sparring ground between the Congressional parties. If funding isn’t approved in the next month or so, existing coverage dollars will be drained. The situation is particularly dire in Texas, where claims against the fund jumped due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Ironically, the same federal government that failed to renew CHIP funding by its Sept. 30 deadline also caused the Texas fund to take an extra hit when Harvey hit. The feds waived co-pays and new enrollment fees for CHIP members to expedite medical care to hurricane victims. Now, says a state official, the fund will run dry more quickly than in other states because of the waivers.
The state initially thought the fund had sufficient resources to continue coverage through February, But, says Carrie Williams, with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the waivers may drain it as early as January.
"So funds may be exhausted a bit sooner than February," she told radio station KUT, Austin’s NPR affiliate. Now, with the clock ticking, her agency is preparing to send letters to those covered by CHIP warning them that their coverage will end in 30 days.
Even if Congress pulls one of its well-precedented last-minute bailouts off CHIP, families may still lose coverage, at least for a short time, says Anne Dunkelberg, associate director with the Center for Public Policy Priorities and an expert on Medicaid and CHIP policy in Texas.
Dunkelberg told KUT that, because CHIP has always been renewed, no one knows for sure what sort of coverage gaps will occur if it shuts down even temporarily.
“Nobody was anticipating this kind of circumstance,” she said. “So, we have just never gotten this close to a deadline.”
While state officials are planning to shift CHIP families to Obamacare coverage if the program ends, the shift wouldn’t work for all the families. Some may not qualify for subsidized coverage, and some who do may not be able to afford it.
The upshot: The same federal and state officials who jumped through hoops to ensure medical care for poor families ravaged by Hurricane Harvey may now have to watch coverage run out for children and pregnant women who are still being treated for injuries incurred in the hurricane.