Brown Orders State Health Officials To Keep Children’s Health Program Open
Oregon’s children won’t lose their health insurance because of Congressional incompetence -- at least this year, anyway.
The U.S. Senate has yet to pass the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Oregon will run out of its federal funding in about a month.
But Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen told legislators Monday that Gov. Kate Brown has instructed him to cobble together the money to keep the program going until the federal government gets its act together.
Otherwise, the Oregon Health Authority would have to send the families of as many as 80,000 children a Thanksgiving letter informing them that their health insurance would expire next month.
“We’re not going to do that,” Allen told the Oregon Senate Health Committee. “We’re not going to put families through that.”
Congress is still widely expected to sign off on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, renewal before it skips town for Christmas next month. But Democrats and Republicans remain divided on how to pay for the program, and the Republican drive to pass a major tax overhaul on partisan terms has prevented the Senate from taking action.
Brown issued a statement from her trade trip to Germany: "This looming threat is unacceptable. I will continue working with Oregon’s congressional delegation to make certain the continued funding for the CHIP program does not become an unnecessary casualty of a reckless Congress, which has turned its focused on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans rather than investing in the health of our children."
About 382,000 children are covered by the Oregon Health Plan, with some of these children covered federally by Medicaid and others by the CHIP program. The children on Medicaid would not lose coverage in the event that CHIP funding is not renewed, but the state may have to reclassify a number of children.
A CHIP renewal bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives 242-174, with 15 Democrats, including Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, voting yes. Oregon’s three other Democratic representatives opposed the bill. The House CHIP renewal bill raids an Obamacare public health fund, raises Medicare premiums for wealthy seniors and cuts the grace period for signing up for health plans on healthcare.gov outside of open enrollment.
The U.S. House bill funded the CHIP program for five years, retroactive to Oct. 1.
Allen also updated the Oregon Senate Health Committee on software errors that led to as many as 41,000 elderly Medicare-eligible adults being miscategorized. The federal government overpaid Oregon an estimated $74 million for Medicaid, but the Medicare program may be on the hook to pay Oregon for care that the state’s CCOs provided.
“A lot of these people got significant care through their coordinated care organization and not Medicare,” Allen said. “Medicare owes us money.”
Allen said the media had accurately reported that the state was overpaid $74 million, but that number will likely change when a more precise analysis considers how much Medicare owes the state and exactly how much the state received for each misclassified adult.
“It’s a rough guesstimate,” Allen said. “We’re narrowing it down to a better number.”
He said that not all of these older adults were designated as part of the Medicaid expansion, which the federal government paid 100 percent. Others were classified in other Medicaid categories, which the state paid a share of the costs.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, noted that OHA handles $19 billion in a two-year period, making $74 million a serious but relatively small amount, she said.
In another OHA snafu from earlier this year, about 8,000 people have come back onto the Oregon Health Plan rolls of the 55,000 who were kicked off in August. The agency finished reauthorizing the renewal applications at the end of summer after not being able to verify eligibility for as many as 115,000 members.
The bulk of these returning members did not respond to earlier OHA requests that they renew their health coverage.
“I appreciate your frankness,” remarked Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, at the end of Allen’s testimony. “It’s a breath of fresh air coming out of the OHA.”
Reach Chris Gray at [email protected].