It's been more than 80 days since Congress let the funding lapse for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a 20-year-old program that offers health coverage to 9 million children whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford a private health insurance plan.
For the millions of families who have relied on CHIP, it's been a huge help in affording healthcare, and in the past, it was a program both political parties supported.
But with the focus on passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, CHIP has not been a priority since its federal funding ran out on September 30—and in fact, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said the government can't continue to afford the $14 billion spent on CHIP each year. "The reason CHIP's having trouble is because we don't have money anymore," he's said. (Senator Hatch's argument against renewing the $14 billion for CHIP comes while he's advocating for a $1.5 trillion tax break in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.)
Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate would like to see a five-year extension of funding for CHIP, but they don't agree on where this money should come from—Democrats don't want the funding to come from cuts to other healthcare programs.
The impact of the lapse in funding for CHIP is already being felt across the country. What does it mean for your family? Here's what you need to know.
If you're covered by CHIP, keep an eye on when your state's coverage will run out. More than a dozen states have started to send out letters to warn CHIP recipients that their insurance may disappear without Congressional funding. Five states—Connecticut, Utah, Texas, Virginia, and Colorado—will need to shutter their programs at the end of January. The last states standing will include New Mexico, Arkansas, and Indiana, which experts estimate will have enough funds to cover its recipients through at least part of next summer. The Kaiser Foundation has a handy chart to help you determine when coverage will be cut in your state.
If you want to sign up, you may be out of luck. Alabama just announced an enrollment freeze for new applications, and Connecticut, North Carolina, and Virginia also expect to stop or cap the number of new applications in January.
Some moms-to-be will lose coverage, too. In some states, CHIP provides prenatal care for moms-to-be, and that coverage will disappear soon if the funding isn't provided.
Take precaution and book your doctors' appointments. If you use CHIP and your child needs a physical or any other medical care, now's the time to take care of that, before the funding runs out.
If you use CHIP, you need to start researching other options. Some states will be shifting CHIP recipients onto Medicaid, but other parents may need to try to add their children to their employer plan or purchase a policy on the health insurance markets. Or, take the risk of being uninsured.
Parents can fight for CHIP. The Kaiser Foundation poll found that 75 percent of Americans support CHIP—so this should be an easy win to make Congress look good, help children in need, and make constituents happy. If you think CHIP should be funded, you can give your representatives a call at (202) 224-3121.