Safety net health plans launch campaign to pressure Congress into renewing CHIP funding

A pediatrician and his patient
The Children's Health Insurance Program provides coverage to nearly early 9 million children in the U.S. (Getty/shironosov)

With time running out until states exhaust their funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a trade group for safety-net health plans has launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Congress to act.

The Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP), which represents 61 nonprofit insurers that serve Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP and individual marketplace enrollees, said it started the “CHIP is US” campaign to communicate the consequences of letting the insurance program lapse.

“Unless Congress acts soon, states will be forced to curtail enrollment and health services for children,” said the group’s CEO, Margaret A. Murray. “Protecting CHIP will provide the kind of fiscal stability that states need, and the health security that families deserve.”

To promote its campaign, ACAP launched a new website that explains CHIP’s role in the healthcare system and prompts visitors to use email, Twitter and Facebook to urge their elected officials to support CHIP funding legislation. The trade group noted that the campaign is an extension of its “Medicaid is US” campaign, which used TV, radio, digital and print advertising to warn about the consequences of the Medicaid cuts included in Republicans’ recent Affordable Care Act repeal bills.

Federal funding for the program, which covers nearly 9 million children, expired Sept. 30. While the House recently passed a bill that would reauthorize CHIP funding, its path in the Senate is unclear given partisan disputes about offsets included in the measure. The Senate Finance Committee previously advanced its own CHIP funding bill, though it didn’t outline how Congress would pay for it.

The uncertain fate of those bills leaves states in a serious bind, as some are projected to start running out of CHIP funds as early as the final two months of this year.

RELATED: Hospitals start getting nervous about CHIP reauthorization

In fact, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a bulletin (PDF) to states last week to advise them on how to handle the looming funding shortfall. It said that states with separate CHIPs have the option to either phase out coverage, transition children and pregnant women to the Medicaid state plan, or a combination of these options under a state-developed approach.

CMS also noted that states can use two sources of CHIP funding in the absence of federal appropriation: unused FY 2017 funds that can be carried over into the next fiscal year after being reduced by one-third, and unused allotments from previous fiscal years that the government can opt to redistribute.

For the latter, there is just under $3 billion available—only a fraction of the projected national funding shortfall of $13 billion. No state, the agency noted, is projected to receive enough of this redistribution funding to cover its entire CHIP funding shortfall in FY 2018.

Still, “CMS has already issued redistribution payments to some states facing October and November shortfalls and is available to work with states individually to discuss funding needs and provide technical assistance,” the bulletin said.