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Congress Lets Health Care Funding For Children Expire

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Congress has missed a deadline to reauthorize funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program. The federal program provides health care for roughly 9 million children in low-income households across the nation.

On Sept. 30, federal funding for CHIP expired, leaving states alone in footing the bill in paying for the health care of millions of children and pregnant women in low- and moderate-income homes.

Passed on a bipartisan vote in 1997, CHIP was co-sponsored by GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The program provided federal funding to states to provide health care for children. The majority of states paid for at most 15 percent of the program. Between 1997 and 2015, CHIP reduced the uninsured rate for U.S. children from 14 percent to 4.5 percent. In 2016, more than 8.9 million children were enrolled in the program.

CHIP funding and coverage varies by state, but generally the program provides coverage for a child's routine checkups, immunizations, prescriptions, vaccinations and X-ray services, according to ABC News.

Hatch and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon had introduced legislation to keep CHIP funded for another five years, but Congress never scheduled a vote before the reauthorization deadline. Critics have asserted that Senate Republicans' last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act derailed the effort to reauthorize CHIP funding.

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Bruce Lesley, president of children's advocacy group First Focus, said momentum for the CHIP bill was building until Senate Republicans turned their attention to Graham-Cassidy, an ultimately unsuccessful bill to repeal the ACA.

"We couldn't even get a meeting," Lesley told the Los Angeles Times. "No one was even taking our calls."

Now federal funding for CHIP is nonexistent. Medicaid officials estimate that at least 10 states will run out of funding for the program before January 2018, while the majority of states will be unable to maintain the program by March 2018.

While Congress missed the deadline, it could restore federal funding to the program if it prioritizes reauthorization when it returns for its next legislative session.

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"States are optimistic that Congress will actually act," said executive vice president Diane Rowland of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "They're not totally panicked yet. But, they need to know very soon that addition money will be coming so they'll know how they can continue their programs."

On Sept. 22, a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 75 percent of national adults wanted Congress to reauthorize CHIP funding, the Washington Examiner reports.

Sources: ABC NewsLos Angeles Times, Washington Examiner / Featured Image: Pixabay / Embedded Images: U.S. Army/Flickr, Riza Caparros/Wikimedia Commons

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