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Nevada needs congressional action to save child health funds

Updated September 7, 2017 - 5:49 pm

WASHINGTON — Nevada would be one of nearly half of U.S. states that would exhaust federal funds for low-income children’s health care early next year if Congress fails to extend the funding, an official for a federal commission that oversees the program told a Senate panel Thursday.

Congress is weighing an immediate deadline to either extend funding or reauthorize for multiple years the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, which covers 8.9 million children nationally, including 25,000 in Nevada.

States would face fiscal uncertainties and some children would be left without coverage if Congress fails to act before the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1, said Anne Schwartz, the executive director for the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

Without congressional action, Schwartz said three states, Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina, plus the District of Columbia, would exhaust their federal funds for the program this year.

Another 27 states, including Nevada, would run out of federal funding for the program between January and March of 2018. By the end of 2018, all states would exhaust their funds.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said lawmakers may need more time to craft a reauthorization bill for the CHIP program, and may need to act quickly to extend federal funding at 2017 levels.

Hatch and the late-Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., created the program to provide coverage for vulnerable children.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., a member of the committee, said he wants to see the CHIP program funding extended for multiple years, to accommodate states like Nevada where legislatures meet every two years.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said “there is no more kicking this can down the road with a short-term bill.”

“Because states run their programs differently, some will run out of funding earlier than others,” Wyden said.

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 quality for Medicaid.

Since CHIP was created, the percentage of coverage for eligible children has fallen from 22.8 percent in 1997 to 6.7 percent in 2015, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, known as MACPAC.

Responding to questions by Heller, Schwartz said there were still eligible children not enrolled in the program, notably Latinos and teenagers. She said some families are unaware their children are eligible.

CHIP program eligibility expanded under the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Matching federal funds increased by 23 percent, but the expansion and increased funds came with a restriction on eligibility rules.

If extended, Nevada is projected to receive and spend $78.6 million in federal CHIP funding in 2018, according to MACPAC.

With only $16.5 million for 2017 unspent, the state would exhaust its funds in January 2018 without congressional action, according to MACPAC.

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

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