WASHINGTON – Time is running short for Congress to fund a program that covers health care for more than 100,000 Minnesota children.
When federal lawmakers return to work in September, they will have until the end of the month to hammer out the entire 2018 federal budget, avoid a government shutdown, reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, prevent the National Flood Insurance Program from lapsing and tackle tax reform.
Then, if there’s time before Sept. 30, Congress needs to lock in another two years’ worth of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which serves children from families whose incomes aren’t quite low enough to qualify for Medicaid.
Minnesota stands to lose $188 million over the next two years if Congress doesn’t come up with the funding.
“That’s a significant amount of money the state’s going to have to address,” said State Medicaid Director Marie Zimmerman.
CHIP enjoyed bipartisan support when Congress created it in 1989, and both parties have come together to reauthorize it in the years since. But the crowded September legislative calendar, complicated by President Donald Trump’s friction with Congress, set off alarm bells at the nonpartisan Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.
The agency, which parses health care issues for Congress, the executive branch and the states, has urged lawmakers to continue the program at least through 2022 to give states time to work on coverage for low-income children. CHIP covered 8.4 million children in fiscal year 2015.
Most states will not run through their CHIP funds until next year. Minnesota, the commission warned, could exhaust its reserves in a matter of months.
At the same time, Minnesota, which launched its own effort to ensure health coverage for low-income children years before the federal program, is less dependent on the federal funds.
CHIP funds supplement programs that serve about 200 infants and another 125,000 young Minnesotans, up to age 21, whose family incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid.
“It would be a hit to the Health and Human Services budget” if Congress fails to reauthorize CHIP, Zimmerman said. But those children likely would not lose their coverage, although the state would be out $94 million a year in federal funds they expected to help cover the cost.
But one program in the state is entirely dependent on federal dollars: a fund that provides prenatal care for some 1,700 undocumented pregnant women.
Congress returns from its August recess the week of Sept. 4.