//LaCHIP is running out of money while Congress dillydallies

LaCHIP is running out of money while Congress dillydallies

Congress voted shortly before Christmas to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program through March. But a new study found that Louisiana and 10 other states will use up their money for CHIP before the end of February.

That means they would not be able to cover all children in their programs beyond the end of January without additional funding, according to researchers at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. There is a pool of money meant to help states cover that gap, but it is unclear how long that money will last and which states will get it.

Unless Congress approves long-term funding for CHIP this month, nearly 1.7 million children in a total of 21 states could lose coverage by the end of February, the study found.

“As February 1 approaches and Congress has still not taken action, some states are likely to send notices to families alerting them that their child’s coverage is in jeopardy and may begin procedures to freeze enrollment,” the study says.

The Georgetown analysis should bring a sense of urgency to Congress. But a growing impasse over funding for the entire federal government doesn’t provide much hope for a quick solution.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program expired at the end of September when Congress failed to reauthorize it. The program got a short-term reprieve Dec. 21 when $2.85 billion in extra funding was approved. As the Georgetown study points out, though, that money won’t go as far as hoped for some states.

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy is among those pushing for quick action by Congress. He sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Dec. 14 asking him to make reauthorization of the program a priority.

“Let’s go do it now. We know we’re going to do it. It’s scaring some people, and we need to just go do it now,” he said Jan. 5 on WVUE Fox 8.

“These are kids, and every kid deserves a chance,” he said.

Louisiana’s version of the program, called LaCHIP, has made a dramatic difference in the lives of tens of thousands of children. Roughly 121,000 children and pregnant women in Louisiana who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid services are covered by LaCHIP currently. Over the past two decades, the program has cut the number of uninsured children in Louisiana significantly.

When CHIP went into effect in 1998, more than 180,000 children statewide lacked insurance. By 2015, that number was down to 45,000, LSU’s Louisiana Health Insurance Survey found.

The state’s rate of uninsured children dropped from 11.1 percent to 3.8 percent between 2003 and 2015, according to the governor’s office.

In a Dec. 12 letter, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and 11 other governors from both parties tried to make Congress understand the importance of continuing the program. The governors’ letter also emphasized the historically strong bipartisan support for CHIP.

States have been looking for ways to continue coverage for children and pregnant women, “but we will need federal support to continue the program. Resources are nearly exhausted and some states already have begun to inform families that their children’s coverage may end on January 31,” the governors’ letter said.

Louisiana would have to come up with $126 million to continue LaCHIP without federal help, Gov. Edwards has said. With the state facing a possible $1 billion gap in the budget year that begins July 1, that seems impossible.

The U.S. House passed a bill in November that would extend CHIP for five years, but there was disagreement over how to pay for the services. The Senate was expected to tackle the legislation and look for funding, but that has yet to happen.

Sen. Kennedy is right. Congress seems certain to reauthorize CHIP eventually. So, do it now — and stop making families worry about losing coverage.