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What about the Kids? Health Care Reform and Children

Posted Jan 06 2010 12:00am

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During the reconciliation process of the House and Senate bills, one of the issues likely to be raised is what to do with the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP.  Under the Senate bill, federal financing for CHIP would be extended for another 2 years past the current expiration date of 2013.  The House bill, on the other hand, would allow CHIP to come to a close in 2013 since the bill plans to expand coverage for children through Medicaid and through the health insurance exchange– where subsidized health insurance would be available.  Whether or not these health reform initiatives will be able to meet the medical needs of children is a matter of debate.

CHIP is a “state-federal partnership” that was created in 1997 under the Balanced Budget Act to help insure those children who are from families that earned too much to qualify for Medicaid.  Similar to Medicaid, the federal government matches state dollars spent on CHIP (average of 57% federal responsibility for Medicaid spending, 70% for CHIP), but unlike Medicaid, the allocations to states for CHIP is capped.  CHIP also places greater discretion in  individual state’s hands regarding eligibility requirements.

One of the first bills Obama signed as President was the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, or CHIPRA, in February 2009.  CHIPRA added $33 billion in federal funds to use towards providing coverage to 4.1 million children via Medicaid and CHIP through the year 2013.

In 2007, over 80% of eligible children nationwide participated in Medicaid or CHIP. Currently, 29 million children are enrolled in Medicaid, 7 million in CHIP. If CHIP were to be allowed to expire and absorbed (at least partially) by an expansion of Medicaid, however, the lower reimbursement rates for Medicaid could mean that those children transferred would not have access to as many health care providers as they would have had under CHIP.  While Medicaid might seem to be a sufficient substitute, it would still leave gaps that CHIP had filled if the reform does not include higher reimbursement rates for Medicaid and automatic enrollment provisions, as proposed by the House. In addition, as it stands, because of the relatively low reimbursement rates from Medicaid, many doctors have ceased to accept either new or all Medicaid patients.

The alternate option of funneling children to the insurance exchange does not seem promising either.  Many children currently enrolled in CHIP could become uninsured if their families cannot afford the plans offered in the exchange, which is a concern– as many families will still have a hard time meeting the premiums– even after the proposed subsidies from the government.  Senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania have proposed to avoid some of these issues by expanding CHIP until 2019, a move that they say would benefit our country’s children by ensuring their access to health coverage.

In considering the options, it would behoove us to remember that “a stitch in time saves nine,” and that the regular health maintenance of children– much more likely for those children who have insurance– will pay dividends in the form of less of those costly visits to the emergency room and hospital stays. We would also be advised to remember that uninsured children in the hospital have bbeen shown to face a 60% greater risk of death than those children who have either private or government health insurance.

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