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Kids’ federal health insurance funds expire


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Federal support to insure around 9 million American children, including more than 48,000 in West Virginia, quietly expired at midnight Sunday as Congress failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Funded jointly by the federal and state government, CHIP has provided health insurance coverage for low-income children since 1997 when it was established in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, its inclusion in the bill championed by then-Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

CHIP allotted $25.5 billion in coverage nationwide from 2015 to 2016, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, insuring children who do not qualify for Medicaid but in families that cannot afford private insurance. Since becoming law in 1997, the percentage of uninsured Americans under 18 fell from 14 percent to a 4.8 percent low in 2015.

State funding, which had been more than matched by the federal government, will keep CHIP operational for as long as each state’s funding allows. West Virginia is projected to be able to fund CHIP on its own until April 2018, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission. Ohio can fund CHIP until March 2018, and Kentucky until February 2018.

Lawmakers in Washington said Monday they will work to re-authorize the federal government’s role in the program as soon as possible.

Officials in the health care field in West Virginia say CHIP is vital to families.

“The missed September 30 deadline to extend CHIP has real implications for real children and families in West Virginia,” said Candice Hamilton, executive director for the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The program is designed to cover age-appropriate services especially needed by children, Hamilton said, including dental coverage, metal health and substance use treatment that may otherwise not be covered by other insurance means available to low-income families. Plans include visits to pediatricians, pediatric and surgical specialists, and children’s hospitals.

“Families in West Virginia deserve peace of mind knowing that they will be able to access the care and support services their children rely on to be healthy,” Hamilton added.

Many CHIP recipients make use of smaller community health centers such as Valley Health Systems, based in Huntington, which treats 442 patients covered through CHIP.

“It would be tragic if our hundreds of children lose their insurance coverage and ‘may not’ have the resources available to their families for needed pediatric medical care and dental care along with other resources the CHIP program provides,” said Steven L. Shattls, Valley Health CEO and executive director.

A bipartisan bill currently in the Senate Finance Committee may reauthorize CHIP before states begin to exhaust funding. The Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act of 2017, or KIDS Act, would fund CHIP through 2022 if passed in its current form.

Federal funding for CHIP had been renewed by Congress in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2015.

West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito on Monday both voiced their support for reauthorizing CHIP, as did Rep. Evan Jenkins, representing the state’s 3rd District. Manchin made his frustrations known after what the Democratic senior senator called a “dysfunctional” Congress allowing the program to expire in the first place.

Capito said strong, bipartisan support for re-authorization is cause for confidence CHIP will be continued as the bill is worked and reworked in the Senate Finance Committee through Tuesday. Senate Bill 1827, or the Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act of 2017,was introduced Sept. 18 by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

“I understand the benefits the Children’s Health Insurance Program offers to many students in West Virginia,” Capito said in a statement. “This is why for two decadesI have championed this important program and support ongoing efforts to reauthorize it.”

Fellow Republican Jenkins also supported reauthorizing CHIP during his first congressional term in 2015, and said he will do so again, should the bill be passed to the House of Representatives.

“CHIP makes a difference for thousands of children in West Virginia, and I strongly support reauthorizing this critical program,” Jenkins said in a statement reiterating the state’s continued funding for CHIP means West Virginians are not immediately losing their benefits. “Still, Congress needs to reauthorize this program quickly, and I am hopeful we will have a bill in front of us for a vote soon.”

Chantal Fields, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said failure to reauthorize CHIP was a disappointment, but that the state advocacy group has confidence in the program’s future given the strong bipartisan support.

“We are encouraged by reports that Congress will take up the reauthorization in the next few days,” Fields said. “We urge Congress, and our own federal delegation, not to delay funding this essential and successful program.”

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BishopNash.

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