Time is running out for Congress to reauthorize a federal program that helps insure more than nine million children nationwide. Florida has the fourth highest enrollment of low-income kids in the children’s health insurance program called CHIP.
Florida is slated to run out of CHIP funding in January, according to the latest report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. And that’s even with a deal secured earlier in the month to help out at-risk states. It’s problematic, says center director Joan Alker and there are few alternatives.
“The [Affordable Care Act\Obamacare] marketplace does not have a pediatric benefit designed for kids and it’s also more expensive for families. So some children will become uninsured. Some will find themselves in coverage that is worse off in the absence of CHIP," she told reporters in a conference call Wednesday.
About 375,000 kids rely on CHIP in Florida-- the fourth highest enrollment in the nation. Authorization for the program expired September 30th but many states including Florida had reserves to carry them longer. Though there is bipartisan support, Congress has yet to reauthorize the program and Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is critical of the inaction.
“It seems the Republican-controlled congress is trying to cut taxes instead for big corporations instead of providing healthcare to children. That’s simply not right," he said.
Some states like Alabama and Virginia are sending notices to families warning them their children’s insurance may not be renewed. Florida isn’t among them. There are no rules, federal or state requiring notice, but states do have to cut off enrollment once dollars run out. Linda Nablo heads Virginia’s healthcare agency and she says it’s hard to determine exactly when such notice should go out.
“If you issue the notice and say ‘your child’s coverage may end on this date’. For some families that’s going to be extremely anxiety producing.”
Governors in 12 states have written to congress urging renewal, but Governor Rick Scott was not among them even though Florida could run out of dollars within the next 30 days. Nelson is hoping it won’t come to that.
“Congress needs to get its act together and start working for everyday people and especially the children, not big corporations.”
There’s bipartisan support for extending CHIP for five years. Watchers are hoping a deal could come Friday, when the body has to pass something to keep the government operating. Alker and other advocates are hoping it won’t be another short-term funding proposal.