Senate committee advances CHIP reauthorization bill, but partisan disputes pose challenge

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The Senate Finance Committee advanced a bill that would extend funding for CHIP.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced on Wednesday a bill that would extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, days after federal funds for the program expired, but partisan conflicts in both chambers of Congress are threatening to derail the talks.

Federal funding for CHIP expired over the weekend, though the Senate Finance Committee had reached a deal last month to extend the funding for five years. Advocates have argued that the GOP's focus on repealing the Affordable Care Act put the breaks on funding CHIP.

In a statement, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and ranking Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said that advancing the Keeping Kids' Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act is a key step to protecting low-income families. 

In addition to funding CHIP for five years, the bill (PDF) "transitions CHIP to its traditional federal-state partnership" over time, the senators said. 

"Congress must get a CHIP bill to the president’s desk as soon as possible—every day that goes by without action means more harmful consequences for families and states," Wyden said. 

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However, the CHIP negotiations could be complicated by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who wants to combine plans to extend CHIP funding and to stabilize the ACA's individual markets, according to an article from The Hill. 

Schumer said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, must schedule a vote as soon as possible on both health reform elements.

Hatch said in a statement that it's "regrettable" that Schumer would use the CHIP funding legislation to "score cheap political points."

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The CHIP extension may also run into problems in the House of Representatives. Though the House Energy and Commerce Committee did advance a companion bill to fund CHIP on Wednesday, the hearing was contentious. 

Democrats support CHIP, but oppose elements of the House's bill that would take money from Medicare and ACA programs to offset the costs, members said at the hearing. The bill was approved by a 28-23 vote, with all Democrats on the committee opposing the legislation. 

"After failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, it is outrageous that the GOP leadership continues its efforts to sabotage the ACA at the same time we are looking to reauthorize CHIP, community health centers and other important public health extenders," ranking Democrat Frank Pallone Jr., of New Jersey, said in his opening remarks

Meanwhile, states are bracing for shortfalls as Congress continues the CHIP debate. Utah is looking at moving CHIP-eligible children to Medicaid or ACA exchange plans if funding runs out, and Minnesota could be hit with a $10 million federal fine if it taps into its unused federal allotment for 2017.