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Kentucky Kids' Health Coverage Up In The Air As Congress Negotiates

Four children playing outside.
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Doctors urge COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 and older, to help prevent long-term or serious side effects from the disease.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted Friday that Congressional Democrats have a choice: to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage for low-income children, or shut the government down over disagreements on how to potentially extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Without an agreement, the money to pay for Kentucky kids enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, could run out in March. That’s what’s at play today.

On Thursday, House Republicans offered to fund CHIP for six more years if Democrats vote for their bill to avoid a government shutdown. But Congressional Democrats had planned on using the potential government shutdown as a way to extend DACA, which allows immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to stay and work or go to school.

Kids' Coverage In Jeopardy

CHIP was created in 1997 to help reduce the number of uninsured kids in the U.S. At the time, there were around 10 million uninsured children across the country. By 2015, that figure had dropped to 3.3 million uninsured kids, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

Congress allocates money for CHIP, which is a federal-state program, every five years. In November and December, Republicans proposed measures to fund CHIP that included cutting the public health fund created by the Affordable Care Act, raising premiums for some Medicare enrollees, and cutting the amount of money the federal government gives to states to pay for CHIP — provisions largely unpopular with Democrats. The measures stalled.

In the meantime, states are running out of money for CHIP. Each state runs its own program and determines income eligibility. In December, Virginia sent letters to recipients warning them that they could lose CHIP benefits in February. Alabama sent out letters last month.

Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, has said Kentucky’s program will run out of money in March.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 92,728 Kentucky kids had health insurance through CHIP in 2016. Kentucky’s version of the program is for uninsured children living with caregivers who make under 200 percent of the poverty limit — that’s $42,400 for a family of four. CHIP provides benefits for kids including dental care, hospital visits and speech therapy.

The problem with CHIP comes down to how to pay for it. In 2015, the program cost $14 billion. While states pay for a portion of the costs, the federal government picks up a much bigger share. In 2015, the federal government paid for 71 percent of the program; cumulatively, states paid 29 percent of the cost, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

A decision has to be made by midnight Friday, or the government will shut down. On Friday afternoon, the New York Times reported Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump around a possible compromise, but left without a deal.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.