CHIPs Are Down

Millions of children could lose their health care, thanks to Congress

José E. Camacho
José E. Camacho

About 400,000 Texas children from working-class families – including 13,568 Travis County kids – may no longer have access to health care if Congress doesn't act soon. Tied up conceiving ways to restrict reproductive rights and abolish the Affordable Care Act, Congress failed to renew the Child­ren's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) after last authorizing federal funding in 2015, letting it expire on Sept. 30.

And in Texas, without the federal funding boost, the money may dry up sooner than expected. In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, the feds allowed the state to waive CHIP co-pays and enrollment fees through November, says Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Carrie Williams. With even less funding in the program due to the waived fees, Texas officials estimate coverage will last until January or early February – not late next year, as some had expected. Under state law, HHSC must end the CHIP program when there are no longer federal funds available, and are required to inform families within 30 days of when the child's eligibility ends. "We're closely monitoring congressional efforts to reauthorize the program and are hopeful that it will be extended prior to the exhaustion of our current allotment," said Williams.

The 20-year bipartisan-supported program offers affordable health care – including eye exams, dental care, and immunizations – to kids under the age of 18 in families who don't make enough money to pay for private health insurance, but make too much to qualify for Medicaid. It also offers prenatal care to economically disadvantaged pregnant women. "Fur­ther delay is unconscionable," wrote U.S. Rep. Lloyd Dog­gett, D-Austin, in a recent editorial. "Every day that passes without legislative action on CHIP puts more children at risk."

José E. Camacho, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, which helps represent the state's safety net providers including Austin's CommUnity Care, People's Community Clinic, and Lone Star Circle of Care, said that the loss of CHIP funding will "have a huge impact because you are destabilizing coverage for a vulnerable population." If funding ends, he said, the safety network won't be able to subsume the nearly half a million ousted children: "If all of those kids showed up at our doorstep we wouldn't have the ability to serve them. We would have to increase our capacity by 33 percent and you can't do that overnight." Camacho recognizes the hypocrisy in lawmakers dubbing the CHIP renewal bill the Helping Ensure Access for Little Ones, Toddlers, and Hopeful Youth by Keeping Insurance Delivery Stable Act. "It's ironic that Congress named it that but has not moved forward with it," he said. "It seems like they fully understand who they're going to impact."

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José Camacho, Lloyd Doggett, Carrie Williams, Children's Health Insurance Program

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