On Thursday, September 7, 2017 the Senate Finance Committee held its first hearings on the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  CHIP currently covers insurance for almost 9 million children in the U.S. who are not otherwise covered by insurance programs (either Medicaid or private health insurance).

The federal funding of the CHIP program is set to expire at the end of September and both leaders of the committee expressed an urgency in determining the future of the program.

Finance Committee Involvement

The Senate Finance Committee is chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah - one of the original co-authors of the CHIP program - who, with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, created a government sponsored healthcare program for children that has received overwhelming bipartisan support during its 20-year existence.  The ranking member of the Senate Finance committee is Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

In his opening statement, Sen. Hatch noted that the avenues available to Congress to continue CHIP include a reauthorization (which would open up the program for a complete debate on overhaul/chnages and could take a significant amount of time) or an extension of the program as-is (which would leave the majority of the program alone and which could progress through Congress relatively quickly.  In conclusion, Sen. Hatch asked committee members to indicate which direction they would like the committee to move and expressed hopes for a continued bipartisan support of a CHIP bill.  Senator Hatch's opening statement can be found here.

Sen. Wyden expressed his optimism that the Finance Committee and Congress as a whole could move quickly on CHIP legislation.  He expressed an urgency from the country regarding the program, noting that even though some CHIP funds will be available after the end of the Federal Fiscal Year (Sept. 30, 2017), because each state runs their programs uniquely, funds will be depleted quickly.  In that case, states would need to begin a reverse outreach to families, providers, and state agencies about the closing of the program very soon after the beginning of the new fiscal year.  In other words, even though there is a chance that some funds are available after September 30, Congress has no spare time to play politics with this program.  Senator Wyden's opening statement can be found here.

Witnesses

The Finance Committee heard from three witnesses:

Leanna M. George, a mother from North Carolina with a child covered by CHIP - Ms. George described her family's background and explained how the availability of her state's CHIP program made healthcare services to her family and her child that otherwise the family would not be able to afford.  Ms. George urged Congress to extend the funding of the current CHIP program (with the extended match rate established by the ACA) for a period of five years.  Ms. George's opening statement can be found here.

Dr. Anne L. Schwartz,Executive Director Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) - Dr. Schwartz noted that MACPAC had recommended to Congress in January 2017 that the CHIP program be extended for a period of five years along with the enhanced match rate.  She described the affect on individual states if Congress does not reauthorize or extend the program beyond the end of the fiscal year, noting that at least two states (Arizona and West Virginia) require termination of CHIP with the loss of federal funding.  Dr. Schwartz's opening statement can be found here.

Ms. Linda Nablo, Chief Deputy Director Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services - Ms. Nablo presented testimony from a State perspective on the CHIP program.  She discussed the benefits of the progam to her state as well as the number of children who are covered and the types of services that they receive.  She also discussed the impact on her state (and others) if Congress fails to act in a timely manner and pass legislation by September 30, 2017.  Although projections in her state show that there would be funds available for the CHIP program for several months, Virginia would almost immediately have to begin a reverse outreach program that notifies families, providers, and state workers of the impending shutting down of the CHIP program.  Ms. Nablo urged the Congress to pass a timely and straightforward authorization of current funding for the program.  Ms. Nablo's opening statement can be found here.

Conclusion

At the conclusion of the hearing, Sen. Wyden summarized the meeting and urged Congress to continue to work on this program in a bipartisan manner as it has since its inception in the 1990s.  He urged Congress to move this item to the top of the legislative calendar and move on it in the timely manner that it requires.  He read a statement from the chairman (who had left the hearing) asking all Committee members with thoughts and comments to meet with him personally to discuss them.

The complete video of the hearing can be watched here (2 hr, 13 min).

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