If Congress doesn't act by Friday, almost 2 million children covered under the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will lose health care coverage as soon as next month. And that might only be the beginning. Across the United States, as many as 9 million children rely on CHIP to subsidize their medical care, which means that if funding isn't renewed, that many families could eventually be left out to dry.
A report released by Georgetown University found that if Congress doesn't act quickly to fund the program, January is the last month that all 50 states could conceivably pay for it. By February, 25 states are expected to have insufficient funds, which researchers say could put another 1 million children at risk of losing CHIP coverage by the second month of 2018.
CHIP primarily covers families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but who do not receive insurance from their employers. The program was put into motion in 1997, and between then and 2012, the number of uninsured children was cut in half. Historically, CHIP has not been a divisive issue; it has found support from both Democrats and Republicans. This year, however, that changed.
Funding for CHIP actually expired on Sept. 30, when Congress failed to renew its funding, which receives money based on block-grants. (Block grants are a sum of money given by the federal government to local governments for a specific purpose.) Instead, they redistributed money already allotted for CHIP to states which needed additional funding the most. This redistribution "patch," according to the Georgetown report, "robs Peter to pay Paul. The remaining 31 states will see their share of redistribution funds reduced, and thus the timeline by which they will run out of money is accelerated."
Republicans, who have a majority in both the House and the Senate, have already indicated that they do not intend to take up the CHIP funding issue before the new calendar year. Sens. Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander, who are sponsoring a bill that they say would reduce premium costs for families who do not receive government subsidies for health care, said in a joint statement on Thursday that they asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not to introduce their legislation until next year.
"Rather than considering a broad year-end funding agreement as we expected, it has become clear that Congress will only be able to pass another short-term extension to prevent a government shutdown and to continue a few essential programs. For this reason, we have asked Senator McConnell not to offer this week our legislation," the senators said.
"Instead, we will offer it after the first of the year when the Senate will consider the omnibus spending bill, the Children's Health Insurance Program reauthorization, funding for Community Health Centers, and other legislation that was to have been enacted this week," they explained.
Some Democrats, meanwhile, think that postponing the legislation is cruel, especially in light of the holiday season. During a press conference on Wednesday, a group of Democrats held lumps of coal and pleaded for their Republican counterparts to act before the legislature's winter break.
"This is the ultimate bad Christmas carol story," said Rep. Jackie Speier. This may be the most shameful day in the history of Congress." She continued the analogy:
What we're doing here today is basically saying, "Wealthy Americans, big fat Christmas present for you; Tiny Tim, we're taking your crutch away from you and all the other kids in this country, and we're putting a lump of coal into your Christmas stocking."
If funding isn't renewed for CHIP, states will run out of funding at a varying pace. Some states already reportedly stopped encouraging new families to sign up. Alabama will reportedly halt CHIP enrollment as early as Jan. 2, and Connecticut and Colorado are expected to stop their CHIP programs by Jan. 31. Other states are expected to follow suit as their coffers run dry.