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Federal funding for CHIP program still up in the air ahead of Christmas break

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Both political parties say that funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a priority; however, the two parties have not reached any sort of agreement on how to actually pay for the costly program.

“Congressman Robert Aderholt called me early this morning and they are working to get the CHIPS funding passed,” state Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, said on social media. “They have added it to the government funding bill which should be up for a vote today. Basically the issue is the democrats keep trying to add items to the bill as they know this bill will pass. He said he would update me ASAP on this very serious issue. Mack.”

As of press time, that has not happened and an increasing number of media reports actually indicate that that is not going to happen this year.  At this point, it is not even certain that the House leadership has the votes to pass a bill preventing a government shutdown at midnight.

New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz is now reporting that the Senate is unlikely to address outstanding health care issues in the government spending bill that must pass by Friday, according to three senior GOP aides and a Democratic leadership aide. That means that a long-term CHIP funding bill, delays of the Affordable Care Act taxes and individual market stabilization are unlikely to be addressed until the new year.

Conservatives wanted to fund CHIP in the government funding bill, but Republican moderates want to do a more comprehensive healthcare bill that also stabilizes the individual healthcare market and paradoxically are holding the children in the CHIP program hostage until next year in order to get their way on the healthcare issue.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, confirmed that they want the issue will be revisited after the Christmas break.

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“We have asked Senator McConnell not to offer this week our legislation,” the two senators, who are sponsoring a bill that provides funding intended to stabilize the individual insurance market, said in a statement. “Instead, we will offer it after the first of the year when the Senate will consider the omnibus spending bill, the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization, funding for Community Health Centers, and other legislation that was to have been enacted this week.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, said, “I wanted to provide an update about where I stand on the CHIP program (which is known as All Kids in Alabama) and the path forward. The House has already passed a bill to reauthorize CHIP, but it has yet to see any action in the Senate. That’s very disappointing to me and hate that this uncertainty is even happening. Ultimately, I strongly believe Congress will not allow the CHIP program to expire. It is important to far too many families in Alabama and around the country.”

“FLASHBACK to November 3rd when the House passed our bill to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years,” Byrne said.  “In Alabama, our CHIP program is called “All Kids.” I strongly support All Kids and the CHIP program because it is proven to work, which is why I voted to reauthorize it earlier this year. Sadly, the Senate has so far failed to even take the bill up. I’m going to keep holding their feet to the fire and urging action on this important program.”

Democrats and many Senate Republicans oppose the House bill because it pays for the $75 billion to keep CHIP funded by cutting other healthcare programs.  The House Republican plan would throw an estimated 700,000 people off of Obamacare, for falling behind on their premium payments.  Democrats are unwilling to sign off on funding the health insurance for low income children by cutting healthcare for low income adults and think this issue benefits them politically in the wake of the tax cuts, which they claim primarily help upper income Americans and corporations.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, said, “It is unconscionable that Republican leaders are willing to throw away $1.5 trillion on tax cuts for special interests when they aren’t willing to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or ALL Kids as it’s known in Alabama. For a tenth of what this tax bill costs, Congress could have stopped CHIP from expiring and saved healthcare for millions of children. Instead, families in my district may be getting ALL Kids cancellation notices for Christmas. Children’s lives are at risk, but Republican leaders have prioritized tax cuts for the wealthy.”

“To Alabama families and all those who depend on CHIP for children’s healthcare coverage, please know that I will keep fighting for a vote on CHIP! This should be a top priority in Congress,” Sewell said.  “While GOP leadership are celebrating passage of the #GOPTaxScam with their donors, I’m getting calls from parents in Alabama who are worried that their kids will lose insurance because of the expiration of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or ALL Kids, as it’s known in Alabama. This is unconscionable.  GOP leaders are refusing to reauthorize CHIP without cutting funds for other health programs. That is nonsense. I just watched them vote for a wealthy tax cut that raises the national debt by $1.5 trillion.”

“I’ve been calling for an extension of CHIP for months,” Sewell said.  “But even after it expired, the Ways and Means Committee refused to hold a hearing. Instead, they spent time writing a tax bill for the wealthy. We need to reauthorize CHIP now. Not by slashing other healthcare programs, not at the end of the week, and not next month. This isn’t about politics, it’s about children’s access to healthcare. We have to extend CHIP now!”

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The state of Alabama is preparing to send out letters on Dec. 26 informing parents that their children will lose coverage on February 1.  Eligible new children will not be allowed to sign up for the coverage after Jan. 1.  Connecticut and Colorado are among the states that reportedly will join Alabama in cutting off coverage in February without federal dollars.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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