A popular federal-state program that provides health coverage to millions of children in lower- and middle-class families is up for renewal Sept. 30.
But with a deeply divided Congress, some health advocates fear that the Children’s Health Insurance Program could be in jeopardy or that conservative lawmakers will seek changes to limit the program’s reach. Other financial priorities this month include extending the nation’s debt ceiling, finding money for the Hurricane Harvey cleanup and keeping the government open.
“With all that is on Congress’ plate, I am very worried that a strong, wildly successful program with strong public support will get lost in the shuffle and force states to begin the process of winding down CHIP,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the advocacy group First Focus.
Income eligibility levels for CHIP vary widely among states, though most set thresholds at or below 200 percent of the poverty level — about $49,000 for a family of four. Unlike Medicaid, CHIP is usually not free to participants. Enrolled families pay an average premium of about $127 a year.
Since CHIP’s enactment, the share of uninsured children in the U.S. fell from 13.9 percent in 1997 to 4.5 percent in 2015, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.
The 20-year-old program has bipartisan support. One of its original sponsors is Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Finance Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on reauthorization Thursday.