What will become of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)? Bastions of the intellectual class — Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Favreau, the New York Times editorial board — charge the Republican party with forsaking it. CHIP gives block grants to states so they can provide children with health-insurance coverage, but is on the verge of running out of money. Depending on whom you ask, the GOP’s recent push for tax reform as CHIP funds are drying up shows either unconcern about or opposition to the program, which traditionally enjoys bipartisan support.
Funding for CHIP expired on September 30, the end of the fiscal year. However, about $3 billion was left over in redistribution funds, allowing states to continue running their programs. In December, Congress passed a “patch” that diverted funds from elsewhere in the HHS budget to states whose programs were about to run out of money, keeping them afloat for a bit longer.
But those measures can only sustain CHIP for so long. “If Congress fails to act on additional funding in the very near future, states will have difficulty operating their programs — and may have to close them,” former Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services administrator Kerry Weems tells me. Per a report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, several states will run out of money for their programs by January 31, causing 1.9 million children to lose their health insurance. By the end of February, that number would rise to 2.9 million.
None of that will happen, though, if Congress appropriates more money for CHIP before January 31 — which the Republican-controlled House just voted to do. The House’s short-term continuing resolution, which funds the government through January 19, contains a provision spending $2.8 billion on CHIP. That is enough to fund every state’s program through the end of March. The House bill just passed, 231–188.
Amusingly, there was speculation that Senate Democrats would block the bill, which needs 60 votes to become law. The reason? The bill offsets the new CHIP spending with cuts to Obamacare’s “prevention fund.” In November, the House passed a bill to reauthorize CHIP for five years using the same offset. It couldn’t get past the upper chamber because of Democratic opposition. (That Republicans and Democrats disagree over how to fund CHIP does not mean either party opposes the program itself, something that should be obvious but appears to elude the Kimmel-Favreau-James Bennet wing of the intelligentsia.)
But Democrats might support the measure now that the stakes are higher. The House plans to adjourn after voting on a disaster-appropriations bill, leaving the Senate to pass the continuing resolution as-is or risk a shutdown. A Senate appropriations committee staffer tells me that the House bill is “a clean continuing resolution with no major riders to bring it down,” adding, “I don’t think you’ll see changes to what the House gives the Senate later tonight.” If that winds up being the case, then CHIP will be fully funded for the next three months thanks to a bipartisan effort. No children will lose their health insurance, and the more hysterical among our commentariat can take a deep breath.