Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
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Congress fails to follow through on key children’s health program

When Congress returned from its summer break earlier this month, lawmakers faced a daunting to-do list for September. Among other things, the House and Senate had to prevent a government shutdown and increase the debt ceiling. They were also poised to take a variety of major legislative priorities, ranging from health care to tax policy, prompting lots of chatter about “the month from hell.”

Now that legislating has wrapped up for the month – lawmakers left town yesterday – September wasn’t quite as dramatic as originally feared, largely because Democrats and Donald Trump struck a deal to punt questions over government funding and the debt ceiling a few months.

But perhaps more interesting than what Congress did in September is what it didn’t do. One of the tasks members were supposed to tackle this month was reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and as TPM explained yesterday, that didn’t happen.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who sits on one of the key committees in charge of health care, confirmed to TPM that Congress will likely allow CHIP to lapse by Saturday’s deadline, putting the health insurance of millions of children in jeopardy.

“I’m confident the money will come but obviously it’s not going to come on time,” she said wearily.

Funding for CHIP, which provides health insurance for nearly 9 million children nationwide, expires this Saturday. The Senate Finance committee has worked for months on a bill to reauthorize it for the next five years, but the work was pushed to the back burner as Republicans chose instead to spend weeks taking one last unsuccessfully run at repealing Obamacare.

I’ll confess, when Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) struck a bipartisan deal on Sept. 12 to extend CHIP for five years, I more or less assumed everything would work out. After all, that’s usually what happens: Congress approaches a deadline, some bipartisan pairings work on an agreement, and it passes in the 11th hour.

Except, this time, it didn’t work out at all. Senate Republicans focused their energies on yet another ACA repeal gambit, and reauthorizing CHIP was pushed to the back-burner.

Now, my point is not that 9 million children will lose their coverage over the weekend. If that were poised to happen, you’d probably be hearing a lot more about this. There have been previous instances in which CHIP wasn’t reauthorized in time – if you’ve been reading me forever, you might recall George W. Bush twice vetoed a CHIP bill 10 years ago around this time – without triggering an immediate crisis.

But The New Republic’s Clio Chang wrote a good piece explaining why this shouldn’t be dismissed, either.

[M]ost states have enough funding to maintain the program for a few months. But ten states would run out of funding by the end of the year and Minnesota would run out by the end of October. According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “When their federal funding runs out, states with separate CHIP programs (rather than CHIP-funded Medicaid expansions for children) may be forced to impose enrollment caps or freezes, or shut their programs entirely.”

Furthermore, there would be numerous adverse consequences that would begin immediately. States would have to start shifting costs to cover administrative tasks necessary for ending the program, such as sending parents notices in the mail. And the lack of assurance that the program will exist in the future makes it impossible for states to budget and plan. Basically, states would have to focus on a variety of things completely unrelated to the program’s intent of expanding access to and improving children’s health care.

Chances are, Congress will circle back to this in the near future, but there’s no good excuse for lawmakers missing this deadline in the first place. The actual reason – Republicans were too busy with a failed attempt to take coverage from millions – only adds insult to injury.

Chang added that this is “the latest evidence that the GOP has become incapable of governing responsibly,” and under the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine anyone seriously arguing otherwise.

Health Care

Congress fails to follow through on key children's health program