Kids’ cov­er­age near dead­line

With­out re­newal, in­sur­ance pro­gram fin­ishes in March

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page - Emily Walken­horst

Arkansas chil­dren and preg­nant women cov­ered by a fed­eral health in­sur­ance plan will con­tinue to be cov­ered un­til the end of March, even if Congress does not reau­tho­rize fund­ing by then, state of­fi­cials said.

What hap­pens af­ter that is up in the air, they said. Fam­i­lies could opt for pricier pri­vate in­sur­ance, or have no cov­er­age at all.

Congress has not reau­tho­rized fund­ing for the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram, which cov­ers more than 48,000 chil­dren and preg­nant women in Arkansas, ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices. The pro­gram pro­vides low-pre­mium cov­er­age to peo­ple who earn too much money to qual­ify for Med­i­caid but who can’t af­ford to buy pri­vate health in­sur­ance.

Arkansas re­ceived $194,356,170 in 2017 to ad­min­is­ter the pro­gram here.

Na­tion­wide, the $15 bil­lion pro­gram cov­ers nearly 9 mil­lion chil­dren and 370,000 preg­nant women.

Six states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have said they will run out of fund­ing as soon as Jan. 1.

Of­fi­cials with Arkansas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal and Arkansas Ad­vo­cates for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies said they want to see Congress act soon to ex­tend the pro­gram.

“If you walked into work and were told that you only had health in­sur­ance for the next four months, how would you feel about that?” Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal CEO Marcy Doderer said.

The U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted in Novem­ber to reau­tho­rize the pro­gram for five years partly by cut­ting a Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act pre­ven­tion fund and in­creas­ing Medi­care rates for higher-earn­ing se­nior ci­ti­zens, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported.

All four of Arkansas’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted in fa­vor of the bill.

The Se­nate has agreed on a bill but not a method of fund­ing the pro­gram, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Spokes­men for Sen. John Booz­man, R-Ark., said he sup­ports reau­tho­riz­ing the pro­gram and does not have spe­cific con­di­tions for sup­port­ing it.

A spokesman for Sen. Tom Cot­ton, R-Ark., said he fa­vors ex­tend­ing the pro­gram but “is open to changes that im­prove the ef­fec­tive­ness and sus­tain­abil­ity

of the pro­gram.”

For par­ents or preg­nant women who might be wor­ried about their health care, “the only ad­vice I would give them is we def­i­nitely want to see them come to get care,” said Rick Barr, chair­man of the Depart­ment of Pe­di­atrics in the Col­lege of Medicine at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas for Med­i­cal Sciences.

De­lay­ing care means treat­ment will be more expensive in the long run, he said.

Doderer said con­cerned peo­ple should in­ter­act with ad­vo­cacy groups or call their rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

This is the long­est Mar­quita Lit­tle said she re­calls go­ing with­out a reau­tho­riza­tion of the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram. Lit­tle, the health pol­icy direc­tor for Arkansas Ad­vo­cates for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion is “ab­so­lutely” con­cerned about re-au­tho­riza­tion.

But she’s glad Arkansas’ mem­bers of Congress sup­port the pro­gram and is hope­ful that Congress will fund it.

“It’s hard to be op­ti­mistic, quite frankly,” Doderer said.

She said Congress has strug­gled to “push things through” and added that law­mak­ers have had sev­eral big is­sues be­fore them this fall.

“This is but one of them,” she said.

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