Austin, Texas—Almost 9 million families – 400,000 in Texas alone – are anxiously waiting to hear if their children will have health insurance in 2018 and beyond.
Congress has passed a two-week, stop-gap budget to avoid a government shutdown, but again failed to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP. That leaves Texas and many other states with only enough money to pay for coverage for a couple more months.
Anne Dunkelberg, associate director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the program’s future is dependent on a Congress that can’t seem to agree on much of anything.
“We know that there is a plan for another vote in Congress on December 22–so right before Christmas–for a so-called continuing resolution that will cover a bunch of things, including CHIP,” Dunkelberg said. “Now, whether that’s going to be a five-year fix or a two-year fix, or another one-month, we don’t know yet.”
CHIP was created with bipartisan support in 1997, and Congress has renewed its funding several times since then. But lawmakers let an October 1 deadline to re-fund the program pass, and other than authorizing short-term extensions for the first few states that run out of money, there are currently no funding proposals.
Dunkelberg said the uncertainty has parents, program administrators and health care providers on edge.
“You have to give parents some warning if you’re going to shut the program down,” she said. “So, if we had thought that we were not able to cover kids in February, we would have had to mail the parents letters before Christmas warning them about that.”
She added there is very little Texas officials can, or will, do if Congress fails to act.
“They have been talking about what they could do to fill short gaps so that you wouldn’t have the crazy situation of shutting down the program for a month and then, having to go to all the expense to start it up again,” Dunkelberg said. “But, if Congress were to just decide not to fund CHIP, we do not have support at this point from our leadership to replace it.”
Dunkelberg said CHIP mostly serves working families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford marketplace coverage through the Affordable Care Act.