House Republicans’ new version of a must-pass government spending bill includes a provision that allocates short-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers.
The revised legislation (PDF) comes on the heels of an announcement from Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Susan Collins, in which they indicated Congress wouldn’t take up long-term CHIP reauthorization until January. Congress will also put off considering two bills aimed at stabilizing the Affordable Care Act—which Collins was promised would pass this year in exchange for her vote for the GOP’s tax bill.
The new spending bill—or continuing resolution—would set aside $2.85 billion to keep CHIP running through March. It would also allocate $550 million for community health centers and other programs. Federal funding for both CHIP and the health centers expired Sept. 30, and efforts to reauthorize funding have been slowed by partisan disputes.
Congress’ previous short-term spending bill included no additional money for CHIP, but did have a provision that changed how CHIP funding from past years would be redistributed, prioritizing “emergency shortfall states.” However, an analysis released Wednesday by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families said that as a result of that provision, the 31 states that were not deemed emergency shortfall states would run of CHIP funding even faster.
On a call with reporters on Wednesday, state officials and advocates stressed that nothing less than a long-term CHIP funding reauthorization is acceptable.
Alabama Bureau of Children’s Health Insurance Director Cathy Caldwell, whose state is the first to cut off children’s coverage since federal funding lapsed, added that Congress’ delayed action has already done damage to the program’s credibility with current and potential enrollees.
“It is just very, very stressful here in Alabama,” she said.
Just as states have been racing to cope with the CHIP funding shortfall, community health centers have also had to scramble in recent months. Some of the 9,800 health centers nationwide have already frozen hiring, lost doctors and other providers, or suspended improvement projects.
In an op-ed published Thursday in The Hill, former HHS Secretary and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt urged lawmakers to consider long-term funding for community health centers a “must” before they return home for the holiday break.
“If congressional leaders do not act soon, considerable damage will be done to community health centers and the fragile population they care for,” he wrote.