AUSTIN (Nexstar) – A federal health insurance program covering nearly 400,000 Texas children is still in limbo as the state remains hopeful it can get additional funding to extend coverage for an additional month.
Congress failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, at the end of September. Texas has existing funds keeping CHIP running, but it’s slated to run out by the end of January. The state is waiting to see if the federal government will provide extra funds to extend it through February.
“There’s no time left for an, ‘It’ll work out approach,’” Adriana Kohler with Texans Care for Children said. “We need to pass this health care funding now.”
CHIP’s benefits include doctor visits, dental care, hearing tests, eye care and much more. The program helps families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but aren’t able to afford private health coverage.
Liz Hong has two children covered under CHIP.
“I was fortunate to find a job that has a lot of flexibility, but it doesn’t have as much income as I would if I was teaching, so CHIP has helped us to be able to still have health insurance,” Hong said.
Hong’s 6-year-old son deals with anxiety disorder and CHIP helps with evaluations, psychiatrist visits and prescriptions, Hong said. Her 4-year-old daughter, also covered by CHIP, is able obtain her nebulizer and inhalers because of the program. Hong is monitoring what happens with CHIP funding closely.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Hong said of how Congress hasn’t acted on CHIP. “We don’t know what we will do and I’ve heard if we try to get on the Marketplace, it’ll bump us back out, so then that adds another layer of something we’ll have to try and navigate.”
Dr. Jaeson Fournier, CEO of CommUnityCare Health Centers in Austin, said he hopes lawmakers will appropriate money for both CHIP and the Community Health Center Fund. When Congress extended funding for CHIP in 2015, it did the same for the Community Health Center Fund through Sept. 30.
“It’s linked directly to our ability to serve patients,” Fournier said.
Fournier said each year, CommUnityCare serves around 2,500 patients covered through CHIP and he worries about what the inaction on Capitol Hill will mean for them.
“Their ability to go ahead and access hospital services and other services and have insurance to cover their needs will be compromised,” he said.
Carrie Wiliams, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said if additional funds don’t come through, the agency will need to notify clients later this month.
Kohler worries about parents who are scheduling appointments in advance, saying, “We know that Congress will eventually act, but the question is whether there will be disruption for kids and families who will be cut off from health care.”
Hong said, “It’s absolutely important that they get it together and get this passed because so many people are relying on it and the people it’s going to hurt the most are the children.”