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House OKs children’s health-care program over Democratic objections

Updated November 3, 2017 - 8:55 pm

WASHINGTON — A bill to reauthorize health care assistance for low-income children passed the House on Friday and was sent to the Senate, where a vastly different piece of bipartisan legislation has been filed.

The House voted 242-117 to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program over objections by Democrats that cuts in funding would eliminate preventive measures and screenings.

“Nothing in this bill should be controversial, which is why it is disappointing to see 171 Democrats — almost every single Democrat member — vote against it,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

But Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said the House bill would cut $6.3 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act to provide preventive services like cancer screening and childhood vaccines and wellness programs.

She said the cuts would mean a loss of $1.7 million to the state of Nevada next year if the bill becomes law. It would also shrink the grace period for missed ACA payments, which would result in many people losing health care coverage.

“This Republican measure is not a bill to reauthorize CHIP. It is a bill that attacks the ACA by gutting funding and taking away health insurance,” Titus said.

In 2016, nearly 69,000 children from low-income families in Nevada were enrolled at one time in the CHIP program, according to The Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, has urged Congress to reauthorize the current program, which ended Sept. 30, the close of the 2017 fiscal year.

If extended, Nevada would receive $78.6 million in federal CHIP funds alone in fiscal 2018, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Access Commission, known as MACPAC. Without reauthorization, Nevada would exhaust its CHIP funds between January and March.

About 34 percent of the children in the rural Nevada 4th Congressional District, which spans from North Las Vegas to Ely, receive health care through CHIP.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., who represents the district, said the House bill passed Friday also cuts funding for community health centers and initiatives that assist the elderly.

Kihuen called the Republican CHIP reauthorization bill a “reckless” hyperpartisan attack on the ACA and health programs for children and seniors.

“They forced a vote on a bill that will die in the Senate and only delay that funding even further,” Kihuen said.

Friday’s House vote was mostly along party lines. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., joined 14 other Democrats in voting for the bill, despite reservations.

“I recognize the serious flaws in this bill,” Rosen said in a statement, “but I could not in good conscience vote against renewing a program that tens of thousands of Nevada children depend on for access to health care, or against critical funding for Nevada’s community health centers.”

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., voted with the Republican majority to pass the bill.

CHIP was created 20 years ago to provide health coverage for vulnerable children in families that were too poor to afford private coverage but still didn’t qualify for Medicaid.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, helped create the program with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Hatch and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, have filed a bill that would reauthorize CHIP in its current form for five years and keep federal funds flowing to states that provide a match.

Sandoval said in September that he had been in contact with Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., about the need to quickly pass reauthorizing legislation and about “the full impact inaction will have on thousands of Nevada children.”

The Senate waited for the House to take up its version of the reauthorizing legislation.

If the bipartisan Senate bill is passed, differences in the two pieces of legislation would be ironed out by a House-Senate conference committee, and a final bill would need to be approved by both chambers.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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