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Children's health program imperiled by Republican tactics

If you haven't been following the fight over the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it's probably time to start.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The Republican-led Congress was supposed to extend the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by Oct. 1. As regular readers know, that was the day current funding for the program, which has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, expired. The deadline passed, however, because GOP lawmakers were focused on trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Health care advocates initially hoped lawmakers would act soon after, and the missed deadline would be inconsequential. That was 59 days ago, and as of now, there is no solution and Republicans don't appear to be working on one.

As Slate noted, the real-world consequences are starting to emerge.

Colorado has notified residents that the federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program will shut down in early 2018 if Congress doesn't act to renew funding that expired on Sept. 30; the state appears to be the first to formally make such an announcement. A state press release says its program has enough money to continue operating until Jan. 31 of next year.Since the CHIP program is administered at the state level, the funding shortfall has different effects in different places, but estimates indicate that as many as four million children nationwide could lose coverage if it's not renewed.

There's long been a buffer built into the system, which is why no one panicked on Oct. 1. Everyone involved in the debate understood that states would move some money around until lawmakers got their act together. In fact, this wasn't the first time federal policymakers missed a CHIP deadline.

The point now, however, is that the GOP Congress' indifference has gone on so long that buffer is starting to disappear. Colorado is warning affected families now, and the Washington Post reported last week that "nearly a dozen" states are preparing to do the same thing.

The article added that five states may exhaust existing CHIP funding "in late December if lawmakers do not act."

House Republicans are of the opinion that they've already acted: a few weeks ago, the chamber passed a highly partisan CHIP extension paid for through cuts to other health care programs. Not surprisingly, Democrats balked, and the bill hasn't been considered in the Senate, which is currently focused on trying to cut taxes for the wealthy.

Rumor has it that lawmakers may try to address CHIP funding in a year-end spending package, intended to prevent a government shutdown, but there's no guarantee that bill will come together, and for some states, the spending package may be too late to avoid interruptions in children's care.

Watch this space.