Nearly 400,000 Texas children could soon lose their health insurance unless Congress takes action.
It turns out that Hurricane Harvey — which slammed into the Coastal Bend and Houston area in late August — took more of a toll than realized, when federal officials waived enrollment fees and copays for impacted Children’s Health Insurance Program recipients in Texas.
That meant less money went into the program.
And now that Congress still hasn’t authorized funds for the program — and the federal dollars for CHIP expired Sept. 30 — officials worry funding will soon run out.
Never miss a local story.
“We estimate we’ll be covered till January or early February,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. “We’re closely monitoring congressional efforts to reauthorize the program and are hopeful that it will be extended prior to the exhaustion of our current allotment.”
Congress has yet to extend funding, although some lawmakers have said they are working on a plan that could reach the U.S. Capitol floor any day.
The proposal being discussed would extend CHIP funding for five years, but many disagree on how to fund it.
Funding for CHIP was last approved in 2015 and lasted through the end of the 2017 fiscal year, which wrapped up Sept. 30.
Now, as lawmakers go back and forth on the issue, some states are trying to find other funds to keep the program going.
In Texas, officials know there’s a small window before funding runs out and nearly 1 million children are impacted.
“When children’s health suffers, so does their ability to learn, which only continues the cycle of inequality,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, wrote in a recent op-ed piece. “Congress must not linger any longer while parents worry about their child’s access to a family physician.”
“Further delay is unconscionable,” he wrote. “Emergency funds have already been rushed to three states, and the head of Texas CHIP expects to run out of money in about three months or less.”
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, created 20 years ago and adopted in Texas in 1999, offers affordable healthcare for children through the age of 18.
It’s designed to help families who earn too much to enroll in Medicaid, but too little to afford private health insurance.
Earlier this year, statistics showed that about 3.5 million Texas children — about half the children in Texas — are enrolled in either Medicaid or CHIP.
CHIP helps fund everything from eye exams to immunizations for children.
If Congress doesn’t reauthorize the CHIP program, state employees will have to send notices to families letting them know 30 days ahead of when they believe they will have to end the CHIP program.
“So, if the Texas CHIP program runs out of funding on Feb. 1, 2018, HHSC must notify families no later than January 1, 2018,” Williams said. “HHSC will also send all children receiving CHIP to the Marketplace via an account transfer no later than Jan. 1, 2018.”