Florida's Children's Health Insurance Program faces uncertainty

Michael Conroy  AP

By now perhaps you've heard that Republicans in Congress are denying health care to poor children, because what else would those robber barons do?

Georgetown University Health Policy Institute's Center for Children and Families analyzed Children's Health Insurance Programs across the country and found that 1.7 million children in 21 of the 24 states facing shortages are at risk of losing coverage by the end of February if additional funding is not approved. In December, Congress passed a $2.85 billion "patch", meant to provide supplemental cash to the program as Congress continues to weigh plans for long-term funding. Under the pool restrictions, states with excess dollars would have to give money to states running low.

CHIP was created in 1997 and has helped halve the percentage of children who are uninsured. Every Child Matters, a non-partisan non-profit, urged the public to call on their elected representatives to "act immediately on a 5-year CHIP reauthorization". Since Republican lawmakers repealed the individual mandate for the Affordable Care Act, it has become more expensive than CHIP.

Without CHIP, dental hygienist Marina Natali says she couldn't afford health coverage for her sons, 12-year-old Ciro (right) and 15-year-old Marcus.

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Republicans and Democrats want the program to be extended. But legislators say they've nearly reached a funding agreement.

That may have gotten easier with a January 5 estimate showing that a Senate bill to extend CHIP would increase deficits by $800 million over 10 years, far lower than the previous projection of more than $8 billion.

But last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) granted lawmakers a lifeline. "So it's just more reason for the federal government to take care of what should have been a slam-dunk re-authorization".

Today's delay in long-term funding has forced states around the country to rely on leftover money and emergency government grants to maintain coverage for millions of their residents.

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Craig Robinson, executive director of Cabin Creek Health Systems, said without the program, the community will struggle. For some families, the program, which costs them nothing or very little, is essential.

Treatment plans for serious diseases can span months, leaving some doctors, like Patel, to jury-rig solutions in case CHIP falls through. She can not afford private coverage for her two children on her dental hygienist pay.

Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a Madison, Wis., pediatrician and vice president of the state's chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, worries that many parents will be surprised if their children are suddenly without coverage.

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