Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is gambling that Congress will see the light and supply funding for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program early next year. She’s told Patrick Allen, head of the Oregon Health Authority, to keep the program alive in this state after the federal money runs out at the end of 2017.
That could be a dangerous financial gamble.
CHIP, which became law 20 years ago, provides money for health care coverage of children younger than 19. It aims at families with too much income to qualify for Medicaid but too little income to purchase coverage elsewhere.
It’s had a huge impact in Oregon. Currently some 80,000 Oregon children are covered by CHIP, which is free to their families. Add those kids to the ones eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, and 98 percent of children in Oregon can afford the medical care they need.
While Oregon does contribute to CHIP, well over half the funds for the program are allocated as block grants to the state from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The program reimburses states for between 65 and 85 percent of costs, and during the 2016 fiscal year, this state received some $225.7 million in CHIP funds, according to the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Unfortunately, federal funding for CHIP ran out at the end of September, less than a week after Congress failed for a second time to repeal the Affordable Care Act. CHIP and its funding got lost in the unsuccessful effort to come up with an ACA repeal that could pass both houses.
The House did approve its version of the CHIP refinancing bill in early November, though the Senate has yet to act on its bill. Only when that happens can the effort to reconcile the two measures begin.
Given the efficiency with which Congress has acted this year, and not just on CHIP, Brown is taking a gamble in telling the OHA to keep the program afloat after the money runs out. CHIP is a program worthy of saving, but to simply assume federal funding will arrive to allow OHA to recoup its expenditures is a gamble she shouldn’t take.