Children’s Mercy Hospital vice president Bob Finuf can hardly imagine a world without the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
The federal program provides Medicaid coverage to about 9 million low- and middle-income kids in the United States, and millions of dollars of reimbursements to children’s hospitals. It’s enjoyed bipartisan support since it passed it in 1997.
But today, CHIP is in trouble. Its federal funding ran out at the end of September and unless Congress reauthorizes it soon, states will start running out of reserves and cutting kids off.
“It’s too important to the country, certainly for those children that are eligible in the individual states and to the providers that are providing service to them,” Finuf said. “It’s still difficult to fathom that it would not be reauthorized but having said that, of course, because it’s important and it’s significant we’re paying attention to it and advocating for its re-authorization.”
According to a report from the Georgetown Health Policy Institute, Kansas is expected to have enough funds to get through January and Missouri has enough to at least get through February.
There are about 79,000 kids covered by CHIP in Kansas and about 88,000 in Missouri.
Finuf said he doesn’t know how many of Children’s Mercy’s patients are covered by the program, because the hospital doesn’t split out CHIP recipients from those who get traditional Medicaid, which is for kids from families with even less income.
He also doesn’t know how many CHIP patients would be able to get health coverage through a parent’s employer plan or be entirely uninsured without CHIP.
“There are a lot of moving parts inside of that that we have thankfully never really had to analyze,” Finuf said. “We remain hopeful that logic will prevail.”
Finuf said the number of Children’s Mercy patients who would be affected by a lapse in CHIP funding would certainly be in the hundreds and possibly in the thousands.
Local lawmakers from across the political spectrum say they want CHIP included in a spending bill before Congress adjourns for the holidays.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, told The Star that CHIP and the immigration program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, are among the party’s top priorities.
“We want CHIP and we want the Dreamers… and it’s not something just we want,” Cleaver said. “It’s what the American people want.”
With most of his party focused on a major tax bill, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, devoted time in a Senate floor speech last week to urging his colleagues to reauthorize CHIP “within a few short days.”
Moran said that the failure to provide a multi-year funding deal for the program was “creating unnecessary burdens for families” worried about their kids’ coverage.
“Now is the time to act to provide some certainty to make sure the funds continue to be available,” Moran said.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah who spearheaded the original CHIP bill, has said he is certain the GOP-controlled Congress will reauthorize it.
But his party’s proposals for long-term funding have been tied to changes to other health care programs, drawing Democratic opposition. Democrats have suggested it be tied to measures to shore up the Affordable Care Act, which most Republicans want scuttled.
So far the only thing Congress has been able to pass is a stopgap measure that spread the program’s reserves so the most cash-strapped states would have a little more time.
That drew a rebuke from a coalition of children’s health groups, including the Children’s Hospital Association, which urged Congress to stop talking about a five-year CHIP extension and make it happen.
“While Congress professes to be supportive of CHIP, the delay in long-term funding for CHIP is sending a different message to families and states,” the coalition said in a statement released Dec. 6.
“Confidence in the program’s future cannot be restored with stopgap measures, and these congressional delays jeopardize the long-term stability of this lifeline for children. It is no longer sufficient to offer vague promises of future action, nor is it desirable or sustainable to continue offering patchwork short-term repairs.”
The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this article.