At Senate Hearing on CHIP, Panelists Warn of Disruption

Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the future of Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), putting the need to extend funding front and center for members of the committee, which has jurisdiction over CHIP and Medicaid. Subcommittee members heard testimony from the following panelists:

  • Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus
  • James M. Perrin, MD, President, American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Cathy Caldwell, Director, Bureau of Children’s Health Insurance, Alabama Department of Public Health
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President, American Action Forum

Most of the testimony and discussion focused on things most Say Ahhh! readers are very familiar with: the critical role CHIP has played in children’s coverage and the very real risk of going backwards if CHIP funding is not renewed (i.e. the “family glitch”  or “kid glitch” that could leave millions of kids uninsured and the higher cost and less comprehensive benefits kids would face in today’s marketplace plans). It’s also notable that while they had differing viewpoints on some of the details, all panelists agreed that funding for CHIP funding must be extended.

What really struck me, though, was the discussion about how the uncertainty about CHIP funding plays out in states and for families.  The term “disruption” came up frequently in this context during the Q&A. While short-term and last minute funding extensions are not uncommon on the Hill (see the last chapter of “As the SGR Turns” here), CHIP’s federal/state partnership structure adds yet another layer of complications not only for state officials that need lead time to plan their budgets, but also for families. Cathy Caldwell called it a “nightmare” for states and families alike. Alabama, for example, has 12-month continuous coverage in CHIP. She made the point that agency officials are already anxious about guaranteeing this full term of coverage to recently enrolled families because they are uncertain about what happens with funding after next September. Bruce Lesley reminded members that a number of states were already sending out disenrollment notices as the clock was ticking during the 2007 reauthorization debate.

This coverage is too important to kids and families to create any disruptions. While consideration of the program’s future in the new coverage landscape will continue to be important, CHIP has a critical role to play in children’s coverage for the foreseeable future. States are building their budgets for 2016 right now, and need to have a reliable sense about the federal funds that will be available. But more importantly, millions of families are relying on CHIP coverage right now. They, especially, deserve the security of knowing their own budgets won’t take a hit and that their children will continue to receive strong child-focused coverage.

(For those who are long-time fans of Senator Rockefeller, this hearing was a symbolic one, and not only because he has been such an unwavering champion for children’s health—it was also his last meeting as chair of the subcommittee before he retires at the end of this term. It was heartening to hear many members make statements about his legacy and role as a champion for kids, which we will no doubt have more to say about in future blog posts. Written testimony and video of the hearing—including the many accolades for the senator— are available here.)

Elisabeth Wright Burak
Elisabeth Wright Burak is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Children and Families