Children’s health program faces uncertain future – Orlando Sentinel
TALLAHASSEE — A 20 year-old health care program for low-income children is in danger of dying, putting nearly 30,000 Central Florida children at risk of losing coverage.
Congress failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program before its authorization ran out Sept. 30, and it’s unclear whether legislation to extend the program will pass before states, such as Florida, run out of money for it.
Florida has $359 million carried over from the prior year it can use for the program, but a report from a commission set up to analyze CHIP and Medicaid says Florida will run out of funding for the program sometime in January if it isn’t reauthorized.
Health care access advocates say CHIP is vital for many families who aren’t poor enough for Medicaid but not wealthy enough for essential care for their children. Some CHIP plans also provide coverage for dental or other preventative care not offered under many private plans but can help prevent more expensive health problems later in life.
“If our kids can’t go to school regularly because they’re sick or if they can’t participate fully … that stunts their development and really holds back our state,” said Scott Darius, executive director for Florida Voices for Health, a health care access advocacy group.
Those with incomes between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or from about $32,000 to $48,000 for a family of four, are eligible. About 8.4 million children in the U.S. receive care through the program, including about 375,000 in Florida as of 2016, according to federal data.
Enrollees in the state’s CHIP program, known in Florida as KidCare, are required to pay monthly premiums of $15 or $20. KidCare administrators recently extended the deadline for October’s premium from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31 because of Hurricane Irma.
KidCare records show there were 28,356 Central Florida enrollees as of Sept. 1, including 14,022 in Orange County.
“They’re not necessarily poor or on the lower end of the spectrum, but providing health care for their children is right outside their reach,” Darius said. “So it’s really a big boon to the middle class especially.”
KidCare is heavily reliant on federal funding, which makes up 96 percent of the program’s overall spending. If Congress doesn’t reauthorize CHIP, the state would have to make up the spending, or else the program would fold or face deep cuts.
Florida lawmakers are already facing a tight budget year, with a likely shortfall due to Hurricane Irma expenses and an expected influx of Puerto Ricans fleeing Hurricane Maria, making it unlikely they’d be able to find state funds to make up the difference, about $300 million.
That would force CHIP recipients to look for coverage in the private market or on Obamacare exchanges, or go without coverage.
Although a bill to extend CHIP through 2022 is moving in the Senate, the GOP-controlled Congress has failed to pass major legislation this year and could be consumed with other big-ticket items, like budget negotiations and tax reform as the year winds down.
Florida “cannot take on another 400,000 children and provide the level of care they need,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, in a released statement backing the bill to extend CHIP.
Officials with the Agency for Health Care Administration, the state agency overseeing CHIP, say they’re following developments in Congress and are seeking “guidance” from federal agencies.
“AHCA is doing everything in our power to ensure that no child in this program loses coverage while the federal government debates this issue,” AHCA spokeswoman Mallory McManus said in an email.
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