- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Virginia warned families on Tuesday that thousands of children and pregnant women could lose taxpayer-funded health insurance by the end of January, as governors from either party heaped pressure on Congress to quit sparring and free up critical funding.

Federal lawmakers allowed authorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire on Sept. 30, as a high-profile plan to replace Obamacare faltered and soaked up bandwidth on Capitol Hill. The lapse forced states to develop contingency plans and tap leftover money to sustain benefits for enrollees.

Key members of Congress say they’re reaching for a year-end deal, but the lack of apparent progress is making governors nervous. Colorado and Utah already told enrollees to look at other coverage options, and Virginia sent notices saying 68,000 children and more than 1,000 pregnant women could be knocked out of their program, known as FAMIS.

“It is truly shameful that gridlock and dysfunction in Congress have left nearly 70,000 Virginians who depend on the FAMIS program hanging in limbo,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said.

He said the state waited as long as it could before sending the notices, but said they finally felt they had to issue a warning.

Nationwide, the “CHIP” program insures roughly 9 million children whose parents earn too much money for Medicaid coverage but still struggle to afford insurance.

House Republicans have passed a bill to reauthorize the program, but most Democrats dislike that version, saying it saps money from Obamacare to pay for CHIP.

The Senate Finance Committee approved its own, bipartisan bill through committee, yet senators didn’t settle on ways to pay for that bill, and the full chamber has yet to act.

Aides say Chairman Orrin Hatch is working with the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, to land a deal.

“The chairman is continuing to make progress in his discussions on how best to address this issue on the Senate floor and remains confident this will be resolved before the year’s end,” Finance Committee spokeswoman Katie Niederee said.

A senior House GOP aide said their chamber already did its work on CHIP, though if the issue isn’t resolved before Christmas, leaders will make sure states have stopgap funding as part of a year-end spending deal.

Last week, Congress passed a short-term spending bill that allowed states to tap unused state-specific funding from fiscal 2017 and a nationwide “redistribution fund” of leftover CHIP money from prior fiscal years.

Governors say they need more than interim fixes.

“Resources are nearly exhausted and some states already have begun to inform families that their children’s coverage may end on January 31,” a dozen governors from either party wrote to congressional leaders Tuesday.

Virginia has created a hotline for families to get updates on their coverage, and issued a warning to schedule care before the end of January.

The fight over CHIP has caught the attention of Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night TV host who blasted GOP attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare earlier this year.

“This is literally a life-and-death program for American kids,” Mr. Kimmel said during his ABC show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” “It’s always had bipartisan support, but this year they let the money for it expire while they work on getting tax cuts for their millionaire and billionaire donors.”

House Republicans said the host was guilty of selective outrage.

“Hi Jimmy, curious why your monologue failed to mention that the House passed a bill to #FundCHIPNow, and that a majority of Democrats opposed the bill?” Energy and Commerce Committee spokesman Zach Hunter said on Twitter.

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