80,000 Mississippi children to lose health insurance in April

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U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.

U.S. Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire on Saturday, leaving nearly 80,000 Mississippi children uninsured by end of April. Nationally, 9 million children are now projected to lose their health insurance in fiscal year 2018.

Funding for the program, which was last reauthorized in 2015, was due to be renewed by Sept. 30. When that date passed without action from either the Senate or the House, the funding expired.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran voted for the legislation that created the program in 1997. A spokesperson for his office said the senator continues to support the program.

“Senator Cochran expects Congress to act soon to reauthorize the program, which is important to many families in Mississippi, before the state exhausts its CHIP funding,” said Chris Gallegos.

Still, several Democrats in Congress were quick to blame the lapse on Republican colleagues, whom they said had gotten sidetracked by the now-stalled Graham-Cassidy bill, which would have repealed the Affordable Care Act.

“No child in America should be without health insurance. Congress should extend funding immediately. We can’t waste another week,” Rep. Eric Swalwel, D-Calif., said on Twitter Sunday. As of Sunday, none of Mississippi’s elected officials have released public statements on the funding.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was created in 1997 and passed with bipartisan support, provides inexpensive health insurance to low income children whose income levels make them ineligible for Medicaid. In Mississippi, this means people in households earning up to 209% of federal poverty level.

In the 20 years since the program was implemented, the percentage of uninsured children in the United States has dropped from 14 percent to just under five percent. But that trend is likely to reverse quickly unless Congress reauthorizes funding. In Mississippi, one in every nine children receives insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Like Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program is paid for by a combination of federal and state funds. But in 10 states the federal government covers 100 percent of the funding for the program. Mississippi is one of those states, and funding for fiscal year 2018 was projected to be $282 million.

Mississippi currently has $98.5 million remaining in funds from fiscal year 2017. As a result, funding is not expected to fully run out until April 2018, according to Mississippi’s Division of Medicaid. But three states and the District of Columbia will run out of funds and have to shut down their programs by December 2017.

The outcry has been strong from several areas of the government since the deadline to renew funding passed on Saturday. Mississippi’s Division of Medicaid, which administers the program in the state, said Congress should quickly authorize the funding.

“We would certainly hope and expect Congress to continue funding for this program,” said Erin Barham, a spokesperson for Mississippi’s Division of Medicaid.

Congress also missed a deadline Saturday to approve $1.5 billion in funding for community health centers. Without the new money, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates 2,800 health center sites would close and eliminate more than 50,000 jobs and access to care for about 9 million patients.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-OR, announced late last week that the committee will markup a bill to extend federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, community health centers and other health programs next week.

“CHIP, now in its 20th year, has always been bipartisan and we hope this extension will be no different,” Walden said. “These public health programs play a critical role in communities across the country. It’s imperative we finish our work quickly so these vital services continue to be available for those who rely on them.”

An earlier version of this story stated that based on 2015 enrollment 88,000 Mississippi children would lose insurance. The story has been updated to reflect CHIP enrollment through Sept. 2017.