Texas CHIP money good through February; Cornyn promises long-term fix

5:24 p.m Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 Texas News & Politics
Nurse practitioner Sherry Fishman Carroll talks to Sasha Rangel, 5, during an examination at People’s Community Clinic on Oct. 3. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Children’s Health Insurance Program in Texas will be funded one month longer than expected, according to a recalculation by the federal government.

The program, which insures more than 400,000 low-income children and pregnant women in the state, will be funded through February. Originally, the Texas Health and Human Services had reported that funding was good only through January after Congress failed to renew spending for the program after it expired Sept. 30.

In a Friday letter to Gov. Greg Abbott from Charles Smith, Health and Human Services commissioner, officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees the children’s program, were quoted as saying that Texas has access to $135 million, which is more than what Texas needs to keep the program afloat through February.

“For CHIP to continue in Texas beyond early next year, Congress must pass a law to renew federal funding for the program,” Smith said.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, also echoed the urgency to fully fund CHIP.

“CHIP is an effective program with bipartisan support, and the children who benefit from this program should never have been put in a position where they might lose care,” he said in a statement. “The written assurances from the administration will provide some short-term certainty for the program, and that’s important. But the need for Congress to act quickly has not diminished.”

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

If Congress does nothing, after February the state could face a $3 billion funding hole over the next two years, the state health agency has said.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on Twitter on Friday that Congress plans on passing a long-term funding bill for CHIP next week.

Like with any federal block grant program, Congress must reauthorize funding for CHIP — which covers 9 million children nationally — every few years.

Established in 1997, CHIP covers children in families that have incomes above the threshold to be eligible for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance or obtain employee coverage. In Texas, a family of four with a monthly income of $4,043 or less, or yearly income of $48,513 or less, can qualify for CHIP.

The portion of uninsured Texas children at that income level has dropped from 18 percent in 1998 to 6 percent in 2015, according to the commission.

CHIP covers primary health care, prescriptions, mental health, vision, physical and occupational therapies and dental care for children under 19. Additionally, about 36,000 Texas women receive CHIP coverage for prenatal and postpartum services.