Bargaining CHIP: Children’s Care Is Used in Federal Budet Battle, NJ Kids OK for Now

The CHIP program, which helps support insurance coverage for nearly 200,000 Garden State children — and more than 8.5 million youngsters nationwide — has been operating since October on surplus or saved funds. Despite several attempts, Congress failed to renew funding for the program — either on its own or as part of efforts to reach a deal on the federal budget, which expired September 30.

Some states set to run out of funds

While some states were set to run out of funding last month, New Jersey has enough money to continue full coverage through late spring, according to a spokesperson for the state Department of Human Services, which oversees CHIP.

Launched more than two decades ago to extend Medicaid’s reach in order to cover more children from working-poor families, CHIP has been embraced by state and federal leaders from both parties. Together, the programs cover one in three children nationwide, and have helped reduce the uninsured rate among minors by more than two-thirds, to 4.8 percent, according to a September report from State Health & Value Strategies, a Princeton University project.

Gov. Phil Murphy stressed the need to extend federal funding for the program earlier this month when he appointed acting DHS Commissioner Carole Johnson; last week U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., (D-Passaic) joined healthcare leaders at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, in Paterson, to underscore the importance of CHIP.

“New Jersey’s children have benefitted from low cost, high quality healthcare for many years. Their well-being should be the only consideration and demands passage of the program’s reauthorization,” said state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), who worked closely with former Gov. Christie Whitman, a Republican, to launch the CHIP program in the Garden State.

Cost of CHIP: $14B nationwide

Vitale plans to join other lawmakers, healthcare and anti-poverty advocates, and leaders from New Jersey Policy Perspective on Monday to outline NJPP’s proposal to provide universal children’s coverage in the Garden State.

Nationwide, the CHIP program costs nearly $14 billion, two-thirds covered by federal funds that are traditionally granted to states on an annual basis. In fiscal year 2017, New Jersey spent nearly $519 million, including $456 million from the federal CHIP program. (Care for some children is also funded through Medicaid here.)

But while federal funding for CHIP was routinely approved in the past, Congress failed to come together last fall to reauthorize the dollars, despite several attempts to pass multi-year deals. A stopgap measure approved in October kept the program — and other government operations — running temporarily, but time is up once again.

Now, federal leaders in both parties are using the popular program as a bargaining chip in their budget standoff. Democrats have blamed Republicans for not reauthorizing funding sooner and GOP leaders have tried to force the Democrats to support the unpopular month-long budget extension by including CHIP dollars in the deal.

Public relations battle

The standoff led to a day-long public-relations tussle, with each party trying to embarrass the other with claims they didn’t care enough about kids. “No children should be used as pawns to settle political scores or points,” Vitale said Thursday night.

The situation was further complicated by an early-Thursday tweet from President Donald Trump — who must sign any deal — that said CHIP should not be included in any budget deal. But the proposal put to a vote yesterday did include a six-year extension of the children’s program, as well as a suspension of certain taxes related to the Affordable Care Act, designed to attract more Republican votes.

What the measure did not contain was a plan to address DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy, that is a priority for Democrats, including Menendez and Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ). Some have insisted they would not support a budget extension without a solution to help the so-called Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children. On Thursday evening, Menendez continued to urge Republicans to consider putting a DACA provision in the bill.

Lance: It’s time for Senate ‘to follow suit’

After several delays, House Members narrowly passed the measure late Thursday. The action drew praise from some, including Rep. Leonard Lance, (R-NJ.)

“With government funding set to run out on Friday, the U.S. House has acted appropriately and passed bipartisan legislation this evening to keep government open, keep our troops and veterans funded and keep our children healthy. It is now time for the Senate to follow suit and act responsibly to avert a government shutdown,” Lance said.

But The Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon that Democrats in the Senate had amassed enough votes to block the GOP bill, suggesting a government shutdown could be imminent — and CHIP funding would remain unresolved. The last shutdown, in 2013, lasted 16 days as Republicans tried and failed to force changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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