Congress is about to consider a bill to address the standoff over the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But the legislation won’t resolve the long-term funding problems with the program and activists worry that it may impede finding a more permanent solution.
The House of Representatives' Rules Committee will consider a Continuing Resolution (CR) on Tuesday that includes a temporary measure to allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services more flexibility in providing states with CHIP funding. CMS has been granting millions in unused money from its yearly budget for the program to states that have begun to exhaust funding since the end of September.
Under current law, there are restrictions as to how CMS can allocate these “redistribution funds” to cover state shortfalls, a Republican aide on the House Energy and Commerce Committee explained. Under the bill introduced by Reps. Ryan Costello (R-PA) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN)—which would be tucked into the CR—those restrictions will be lifted until December 31, allowing more money to flow from CMS to states if need be.
“This responsible stopgap solution, championed by Reps. Costello and Emmer, will help families and states while Congress finishes the job to extend funding for children’s health insurance, public health priorities, and Medicare extenders that seniors rely upon,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess (R-TX) said in a joint statement today.
Already, some states have turned to CMS to help them with their CHIP funding shortfalls. Colorado has already contacted families enrolled in the program informing them that they only have sufficient funds to operate the program through the end of January. Connecticut is preparing a similar notice for later this month as are Arizona, the District of Columbia, Minnesota and North Carolina, leading to state officials having to improvise for funding.
The Costello-Emmer legislation would help with that. But after December 31st, the future stability of the program remains murky. Republicans and Democrats would both like to see a five-year reauthorization of the program. And though a Democratic aide said that the short-term Republican solution wouldn’t a deal breaker for the party, the fear remains that it would make a longer-term bill harder to finalize.
“There is bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a five year funding extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a co-author of the Senate’s reauthorization bill, told The Daily Beast in a statement. “Instead of putting forward a patchwork, slapdash scheme that will do nothing to ease the stress of families and state budgets, Congress should step up and end the uncertainty over CHIP after two months of needless delay.”
On the Hill, lawmakers in both parties continue to speak publicly about their hopes that the standoff over CHIP ultimately gets resolves. On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that a CHIP provision would be included in the final year-end spending bill. And a spokesperson for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who co-sponsored the bill establishing the program in 1997, said it “continues to be a top priority.”
Hatch “remains confident this will be resolved before the year’s end,” his office added.
But major differences remain between the parties and between the House and the Senate. And it’s not entirely clear how they will get resolved in such a short period of time. Advocates worry that the Costello-Emmer will essentially remove any impetus for lawmakers to bridge their differences, since it would ensure that any state in need would be able to turn to a pool of emergency funding. But even that doesn’t come without a cost, both to the state and to the federal government itself, which would have to manage crises on an ad hoc basis.
“The longer Congress postpones action on long-term CHIP funding, the more states will be forced to waste time and money developing contingency plans,” Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University wrote on Monday.