Advocates for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, popularly known as CHIP, took heart when Congress and the president authorized temporary funding measures that would keep the government from shutting down and keep CHIP going through the first of 2018.
This was no Christmas miracle – just a temporary reprieve. Nevertheless, for the beneficiaries of ALL Kids, the Alabama Department of Public Health unit that administers CHIP funds to provide insurance for 83,000 Alabama kids, it was a welcome reprieve.
“I don’t know specifically, I don’t know dollar amounts,” said Cathy Caldwell, executive director of ALL Kids, “but I have had some preliminary conversations with CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and it appears that it will give us an additional three-four weeks’ worth of funding.”
Besides the ALL Kids funding, about 77,000 children are insured by CHIP funding through Alabama’s Medicaid system. Those children would still have insurance even if Congress fails to act – although the state would have to pick up the cost for insuring them.
Because ALL Kids was expected to run out of funding in February, that would appear to give the children it covers a reprieve until March – absent any first-of-the-year actions by Congress that change the situation. But Caldwell was cautious.
“We’re going to have to watch very, very closely,” she said.
Speaking on Dec. 22, she said: “My financial person is off for Christmas, so early next week she’ll look at the numbers and really get a firm date. But I am assuming that it will give us another month.”
To give you an idea how close ALL Kids came to shutting down, consider the notice that was on its website for a week up to the Dec. 21 Congressional action:
Important Notice: Effective January 1, 2018, ALL Kids will no longer enroll children. All applications and renewal forms received on or after that date will be processed for Medicaid eligibility or referred to the Health Insurance Marketplace. Children currently enrolled in ALL Kids will continue to receive benefits for now. If Congress does not act soon, coverage for active ALL Kids enrollees will be terminated effective February 1, 2018, regardless of the “Good Thru Date” on their ALL Kids insurance card.
You can apply for new health coverage and financial assistance for any person losing ALL Kids coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace by calling 1-800-318-2596 or visiting their website, HealthCare.gov.
By midday Dec.22, Caldwell said that notice would soon be taken down and, she expected, replaced by a message more cautiously optimistic.
“At this point, I do think that something was better than nothing,” she said. “I had gotten very worried that we would have to freeze enrollment, so I am very pleased that we won’t have to do that. We need Congress to act in January because if they don’t, we will likely just shift everything in one month … . I don’t want families to worry unduly. I also don’t want them to think its fixed … that everything’s been resolved.”
Caldwell said families have been calling ALL Kids in a panic, fearful of what a looming government shutdown would mean for their children’s insurance. For the time being, she said, ALL Kids’ main message for parents is, “We will not freeze enrollment January 1 … . We really need Congress to act in January for permanent funding.”
Caught up in Politics
The CHIP program, which serves 9 million children throughout the country, has been popular with Republicans and Democrats alike. Nevertheless, embroiled in a variety of other issues – including tax reform – Congress let a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize funding for CHIP pass without action. In the months since then, CMS has reallocated leftover funds to help states keep their CHIP programs afloat until Congress resolves the issue. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 32 states were expected to have exhausted CHIP funds by the end of March 2018.
As of the vote this week, Congress has authorized $2.85 million for Oct. 1 to March 31 to keep CHIP running until more permanent funding is put in place.
The question of where Alabama’s congressional delegation stands on CHIP funding was raised immediately after Democrat Doug Jones secured his win over Republican Roy Moore for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Jones quickly called for funding of ALL Kids.
A week after the Dec. 12 election, Jones issued a statement: “Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program has reached a crisis level and my future colleagues must stop playing political football with the health care of our children and act now to ensure Alabama’s most vulnerable do not begin losing coverage. It is absolutely unacceptable for partisan fighting to delay renewing funding for CHIP. The State of Alabama announced yesterday that it would freeze enrollment beginning on January 1st and the funding that covers more than 150,000 Alabama children is set to expire not long after.
“As I have said throughout my campaign and again on election night, it’s time for our leaders to do what’s right and extend funding for the nine million children who receive coverage from CHIP.”
Other members of the Alabama delegation have made strong statements in support of reauthorizing funding for CHIP and, consequently, Alabama’s ALL Kids program.
Through a spokesman, Rep. Bradley Byrne complained that the Senate is dragging its feet. He pointed out that the House on Nov. 3 passed a reauthorization for CHIP that would fund it another five years. But the Senate has not acted on that reauthorization.
In a statement he made in November, Byrne said: “I have seen the success of these important public health programs firsthand, and I am pleased the House has acted to ensure they continue. Alabama’s CHIP program, known as All Kids, has helped countless children gain access to affordable health insurance. At the same time, community health centers throughout southwest Alabama help patients every single day.
“The Senate should act quickly on this bipartisan legislation to ensure these programs continue without disruption.”
In his speech on the floor of the House, Byrne said, “I have long been a strong supporter of the CHIP program because I have seen it in action back in my home state of Alabama.
“I served on the Alabama state school board back when Alabama implemented our CHIP program, known as All Kids. All Kids was the first CHIP program in the country and it has made a real difference. In fact, the uninsurance rate for children in Alabama has gone from 20 percent pre-CHIP to 2.4 percent today.
“CHIP has always been a bipartisan program, and I hope this reauthorization will also earn bipartisan support.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Martha Roby’s press secretary, Emily Taylor, issued a statement signaling Roby’s support for CHIP:
“Legislation extending government funding – including full funding for CHIP – is currently in the House Rules Committee and should be voted on this week. … Rep. Roby supports funding CHIP and is confident an agreement can be reached soon.”
Rep. Terri Sewell also issued a statement in support of CHIP along with a swipe at her colleagues across the aisle, who, at the time, were working on passing the sweeping tax reform act President Donald Trump just signed into law.
“It is unconscionable that Republican leaders are willing to throw away $1.5 trillion on tax cuts for special interests when they aren’t willing to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or ALL Kids as it’s known in Alabama,” Sewell said. “For a tenth of what this tax bill costs, Congress could have stopped CHIP from expiring and saved healthcare for millions of children. Instead, families in my district will be getting ALL Kids cancellation notices for Christmas. Children’s lives are at risk, but Republican leaders have prioritized tax cuts for the wealthy. This is truly Congress at its worst.”
Efforts to obtain comments from Sen. Richard Shelby, Rep. Mike Rogers, Rep. Robert Aderholt, Rep. Mo Brooks, and Rep. Gary Palmer have been unsuccessful.