Children’s Health Insurance Planned for House Vote

Rep. Kurt Schrader said Democrats object to how funding for healthcare delivery reforms are being diverted to backfill the program. Rep. Greg Walden supports raising Medicare premiums for wealthy seniors and blamed Democrats for not offering a counter-proposal.

The U.S. House of Representatives plan to vote next week on a bill that will keep the lights on for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a longstanding federal program that insures almost 400,000 Oregon children.

Oregon is one of several states whose funding is imperiled, a story that seems to have slipped under the radar as Congressional Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have dominated headlines nationally, and the funding for the Medicaid expansion in Oregon has been held up by a Republican referendum, leading to Measure 101.

If Congress does not act, the state’s CHIP program will be out of money by the middle of December. Funding for the program officially expired at the end of last month, but the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave the Oregon Health Authority two short extensions to keep the program going.

“Oregon has been informed by CMS that we are eligible for about $51 million in redistributed CHIP funds in federal FY 2018,” said OHA spokeswoman Saerom England in an email. “We have received $14.2 million that will maintain our projected CHIP expenses through October. We have been approved for an additional $23.8 M to maintain CHIP coverage through November. The remaining $13 million (of the $51 M redistribution) that is available for request would last us until some point in mid-December, depending on exact enrollment trends over the next 2 months.”

England did not say what OHA’s plans were beyond Dec. 15, but she said the agency was preparing a report to give legislators in November. Other states, including Utah, are considering moving children out of their public insurance programs and onto the federal private health insurance exchange if the states lose federal support.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee passed a tentative measure extending CHIP for five years. Like its House counterpart, it allows a 23-percentage point enhanced federal match that had come with Obamacare to disappear. As Oregon grapples with how to fund the Medicaid expansion, the sharp reduction in the federal match could blow another hole in future state budgets, even if Congress finally passes the extension.

Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, told The Lund Report on Friday that the details of the measure are not final but he’s ready to support a bill to keep CHIP funded. He had voted against a version that passed Oct. 4 out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee on a party-line vote. The bills also fund federally qualified health centers, which are designed to serve Medicaid and the remaining uninsured.

“I voted against it to give both sides more time to reach an agreement,” Schrader said. “It’s not the perfect bill that Kurt Schrader would write.”

Both parties have blamed the other for the impasse and delay. Democrats object to diverting money from an Affordable Care Act public health and prevention fund to meet costs for children’s health insurance as well as increasing Medicare premiums for wealthy seniors.

“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,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. “Let’s not forget that both CHIP and Community Health Centers are linked to the ACA. If the ACA continues to be sabotaged, it will inevitably hurt CHIP and Community Health Centers.”  

Scharder said the cuts to the ACA have been negotiated away before. The funds are meant to help physicians and clinics adopt value-based healthcare that encourages them to keep patients healthy, bringing down the costs long-term. He blamed Republicans for not allowing those investments to happen, which allowed the funding to be cannibalized for other purposes.

“Despite Ranking Member Pallone’s statement calling for renewed bipartisan negotiations nearly two weeks ago, we have yet to receive a single counter-offer from our Democratic colleagues. Instead, they are adamantly protecting subsidies for the wealthiest one percent of Medicare beneficiaries, those making more than $40,000 per month, instead of funding health insurance for low-income children,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, the chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Schrader said he did not oppose raising Medicare premiums on seniors with incomes above $500,000. These seniors would be expected to pay an additional $1,620 a year for their health insurance.

Reach Chris Gray at [email protected].

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