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Senate panel backs bipartisan bill to reauthorize Children’s Health Insurance Program

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 4, 2017, 10:33 p.m.

Dixie Stone of Boise, holds her son Connor (in arms), with her daughter Shauntara (middle) and son Michael (in front) holding signs. All three kids are also wearing chocolate chip cookie costumes to call on Idaho’s congressional representatives to stand up for the state Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. (BETSY Z. RUSSELL / ID)
Dixie Stone of Boise, holds her son Connor (in arms), with her daughter Shauntara (middle) and son Michael (in front) holding signs. All three kids are also wearing chocolate chip cookie costumes to call on Idaho’s congressional representatives to stand up for the state Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. (BETSY Z. RUSSELL / ID)

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for five years, after the funding expired Oct. 1. The House also is considering CHIP funding legislation.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., hailed the committee’s passage of the bill, saying, “We must never forget what this program means for millions of children and their families. We must keep the focus on covering kids and the adult population that go along with them in the most cost-effective way possible.”

Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said passage of the bill would ensure children on the program don’t see a lapse in coverage. “Extending funding for CHIP has been a top priority of this committee, and I am pleased to see the committee advance this policy today,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to work with Ranking Member (Ron) Wyden and my colleagues to further advance this bill in a fiscally responsible manner to provide certainty for this critical, bipartisan program.”

The bill would continue the current federal matching rate for CHIP for two years, including an increase that was part of the Affordable Care Act. That rate would be lowered in 2020 and then returned to pre-ACA levels in 2021 and 2022. Cantwell filed an amendment to extend the current rate for all five years.

Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, said Crapo, who along with Cantwell serves on the committee, is supportive of the bill, “barring unfavorable amendments being added later.”

CHIP covers 22,218 children in Idaho and 60,000 in Washington, who are enrolled through the state’s Apple Health for Kids program. Nearly 9 million children are covered by the program nationwide.

In Idaho, CHIP was funded 80 percent by the federal government and 20 percent by the state until the passage of the ACA, which added another 23 percentage points to the federal matching rate. That meant in Idaho and 10 other states, the federal government now covers the entire cost. Washington’s current matching rate is 88 percent.

Under the bill, that funding level would remain for the next two years, but the increase would drop to 11.5 percentage points three years out, and back down to pre-ACA levels for the two years after that.

“We would have to figure out where to come up with that other 20 percent,” said Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “From the state perspective, we are confident that whatever happens, that we’ll be able to continue coverage for children in the CHIP program.”

Working with federal officials, Idaho developed a backup plan, Forbing-Orr said, in case the CHIP funding wasn’t reauthorized, that involved moving those kids to the Medicaid program. In Idaho, the federal matching rate for Medicaid is about 70 percent.

“That’s still a backup if this bill doesn’t continue the progress,” Forbing-Orr said. “But it’s still really early, and we’re still sort of analyzing all of our options.”

Since the program was created, the proportion of children who are uninsured has fallen to less than 5 percent today, from nearly 14 percent in 1997.