CHIP is Moving Ahead But Will Congress Get to the Finish Line in Time?

Late last night House Republicans released text of their bill (the Healthy Kids Act) to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and they are proceeding rapidly to mark up tomorrow in the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Senate Finance Committee is also marking up their bill, the KIDS Act, tomorrow.

The very good news here is that the House bill, on the policy side, closely mirrors the Senate language in the Hatch-Wyden agreement. There are a few differences, but overall as I blogged about a few weeks ago this is a solid compromise for children on CHIP. Tricia Brooks unpacked the Hatch-Wyden language here.

The House bill also includes a CHIP buy-in provision, which no doubt emanates from a complex set of issues that have emerged in one of my favorite states – Florida. There are some ways in which this language should be improved, but this is not a major issue.

The real question in my mind is whether the House and the Senate will be able to come up with bipartisan offsets to complement their bipartisan policy. Time is of the essence here as it has become clear that real world consequences of Congressional action are imminent. Just last week we learned that Utah was the first state to request permission to freeze enrollment in their CHIP program. The state would likely start alerting families in November. Nevada is running projections weekly to monitor how long it will be able to continue the current program. And Minnesota says it has already run out of money – CMS reportedly just gave them a small infusion of $3 million to tide them over.

Once notices start going out to families, negative enrollment consequences are likely to follow – even if a state ends up not closing enrollment. Families have been hearing all year about Congress taking away coverage, so I fear it won’t take much for them to think the worst and not sign their kids up. And Congress doesn’t have a lot of legislative days to get this done in October: The Senate is out on recess next week and the House the following week.

CHIP needs to get to the President’s desk for his signature in the next few weeks. Fingers crossed that Congress will get over the finish line on this one!

Joan Alker is the Executive Director of the Center for Children and Families and a Research Professor at the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy.