Alabama is the latest state to bear bad news to recipients of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), warning families Monday that it will no longer enroll children starting Jan. 1, 2018 and will terminate the program entirely on Feb. 1, 2018 if Congress fails to act.
Congressional lawmakers have yet to renew federal funding for CHIP since the program expired on Sept. 30. Since then, state officials have had to relay devastating news of funding shortages to families of modest incomes right around the holidays.
CHIP provides low-cost health coverage to nearly nine million children nationwide, and provides insurance to roughly 150,000 Alabama children, 84,000 of which are at risk of losing coverage through the state’s CHIP, dubbed ALL Kids. (In 20 states, CHIP also covers pregnant women.) The state-administered program is jointly financed, and federal money accounts for more of the share — between 65 to 85 percent.
Sixteen states that serve 4.9 million children are expected to exhaust funds by the end of January. Officials in six states — Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, Utah and Virginia — have said they’ll end the state programs if Congress fails to reauthorize funding. Two states — Colorado and Virginia — have already directly notified parents of this news by mail. The letters prompted panic in one Denver school. Parents came to Goldrick Elementary School “freaking out,” asking staff for advice.
“My families are affected and I’m really concerned,” Goldrick special education teacher Silvia Stantcheva recently told ThinkProgress. “And I feel like I can’t do much.”
Alabama is reportedly the first state to freeze enrollment:
Alabama is the first state I am aware of that has announced a freeze in CHIP enrollment. Kids living in States with separate CHIP programs are most at risk of losing coverage. See list here in Appendix 1 of our report https://t.co/w8H8M7pct2 https://t.co/m7oiVlqaAG
— Joan Alker (@JoanAlker1) December 18, 2017
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, historically, “most freezes in CHIP enrollment have a fairly short lifespan (less than one year), but research shows that they can have a long-term chilling effect on enrollment for years after they are lifted.” Prior to an Obamacare requirement, states were able to freeze and restrict enrollment. In response to the 2001 economic recession, some cash-strapped states — including Alabama — froze enrollment to save dollars. In 2003, Alabama stopped enrolling children in CHIP for about eight months, and had uninsured kids wait for coverage. By the fall 2004, enrollment declined by 12 percent.
“It’s different this time,” Cathy Caldwell, the director of the Bureau of Children’s Health Insurance Programs in Alabama, told ThinkProgress. “This time, the freeze is to stop the flow of incoming children.” Later this month, officials will notify affected families that the program may terminate.
“This is such a wonderful, valuable program. I absolutely hope Congress will act soon.” Caldwell said. “One in five children [in Alabama] were uninsured prior to CHIP.”
Alabama’s contingency plan is predicated on Congressional action. Political bickering jeopardizes the health care of millions of low-income families. Members on both side of the aisle agree that funding CHIP is critical; however, Republican and Democratic lawmakers don’t agree on the pay-fors. A stopgap measure introduced last week funds the program for five-years by charging wealthier Medicare beneficiaries higher premiums and making significant cuts to the Obamacare Prevention and Public Health Fund (which accounts for 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention annual budget).