CA Children’s Health Insurance at Risk as Congress Fails to Fund It

California has the largest number of kids enrolled in CHIP in the nation, at more than 1.9 million youngsters. Photo Credit: Children's Action Alliance

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It’s been almost a month since Congress let funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program run out – and now, the State of California says the program known as CHIP will go broke at the end of December. The California Department of Healthcare Services says this unprecedented situation will require some hard decisions in November.

Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, says Congress’ inaction has forced many states to consider freezing enrollment or cutting benefits.

“States cannot wait until they run out of money to take action; in fact, doing so would be irresponsible,” she warns. “But making changes to CHIP coverage, even temporarily, takes time and will further deplete the funds that states have to pay for healthcare for children.”

Meanwhile, Brooks says lawmakers in D.C. have spent the past few months trying to repeal the ACA, pass a budget and work on tax reform.

California’s CHIP program, which is part of Medicaid, has about 1.9 million children enrolled. The state is required by law to keep the program going, so some federal money would still flow. But the federal reimbursements would drop by 38 percent – leaving the state to try and absorb the rest.

Kristen Golden Testa, California health director for the Children’s Partnership, says another program that covers 118,000 women and their newborns, is entirely dependent on federal money. So the state would either have to end it or cover the entire cost.

“It’s a difficult situation because they have to balance the responsible program operators with not wanting to unnecessarily distress the families whose children depend on this coverage,” she says.

Two committees in Congress have already agreed on CHIP policy going forward, but they haven’t figured out how to pay the $8 billion to fund the program for the next five years. Testa says the worry is that people will stop bringing their kids to the doctor, even while the insurance program remains intact.