Government avoids shutdown but Children’s Health Insurance Program families still at risk

RICHMOND, Va. – A stopgap measure designed to avoid a government shutdown includes a provision that will provide the Children’s Health Insurance Program with temporary funding for two weeks. But the program’s fate past Dec. 22 is still uncertain.

More than 68,000 children and 1,100 pregnant women count on Virginia’s CHIP-funded program, the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security program, for medical services. State officials began reaching out to their families on Tuesday, notifying them that FAMIS could be terminated on Jan. 31.

“We are hopeful that Congress will once again provide the funding to continue this program,” the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services told families in a letter. “However, because Congress has not acted yet, we need to let you know that there is a chance the FAMIS programs may have to shut down.”

CHIP is an extension of Medicaid that provides government-funded health insurance to children and pregnant women from families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance.

Congress missed the Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize federal funding for CHIP.

Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, Chesapeake and Hampton all made the list of localities with the most CHIP recipients.

The problem is “one of benign neglect,” Karen Remley, CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a press release. “As efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act dominated the agenda in the Senate, needed attention to CHIP was lost.”

In a letter to the Virginia congressional delegation, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said “partisan infighting and dysfunction” in Congress have jeopardized the state’s CHIP-funded program.

McAuliffe and other Democrats blame Republicans for the problem.

As of Dec. 1, McAuliffe estimated that more than 68,000 children and 1,100 pregnant women in Virginia depend on FAMIS to receive medical services such as immunizations, checkups and even surgeries and cancer treatments.

In response to McAuliffe, U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor, a Republican from Virginia Beach, said that “scaring families via press release is not helpful.”

“It is completely disingenuous to insinuate that I or any other member of the Virginia congressional delegation are ignoring reauthorization of this important program,” Taylor stated in a press release of his own. “In fact, the present delay is a result of a request by the minority party to further negotiations on offsets.”

U.S. senators including Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have expressed bipartisan support for the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act, or the KIDS Act of 2017.

If ratified, it would extend federal funding for CHIP through the 2022 fiscal year.

“Sen. Warner recognizes it is essential that CHIP is reauthorized,” said Jonathan Uriarte, his deputy press secretary. “And the KIDS Act is an imperfect but needed compromise to continue funding these necessary health care services for children.”

But the KIDS Act does not specify where funding for CHIP would come from.

In early November, the House voted 242-174 to reauthorize CHIP under the Championing Healthy Kids Act. Democrats opposed the bill because it would cut more than $10 billion from public health and prevention programs funded by the Affordable Care Act and because it would raise Medicare fees for higher-income recipients.

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said on the House floor that the Healthy Kids Act would extend CHIP “without adding to our country’s deficit.” On the other hand, Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Richmond, said the bill is “loaded with poison pills that would undermine the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid.”

According to the Department of Medical Assistance Services, CHIP in Virginia cost more than $304 million in fiscal year 2017, with most of the money coming from the federal government. McAuliffe said Virginia is expected to exhaust the federal funds by the end of January.

“Unless something changes … enrollment will be frozen Jan. 1,” McAuliffe stated. “By Jan. 31, Virginia will have insufficient federal funds to continue the program.”

The House and Senate must agree on a bill before it can be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.