April 7 2015

Before heading off for spring recess, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a major health care reform bill that extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years and fixes an 18 year-old quirk in the law that repeatedly threatened to cut payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

The extension protects the health coverage of over eight million children in California and across the country that rely on CHIP for their health coverage.

It extends all of CHIP’s incredibly important provisions, such as the pediatric quality measures program,outreach and enrollment grants, the childhood obesity demonstration project, and the Express Lane Eligibility state option for two years.

Signed into law 17 years ago, CHIP provides health coverage to children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private health coverage. Although the Affordable Care Act extended authority for CHIP through 2019, funding for the program is set to expire this fall if congressional lawmakers do not act.

The consequences of such inaction would be devastating for the one million children and pregnant women in California who rely on CHIP as their source of health insurance coverage.  In addition, the state’s finances would take a serious hit.

In a recent letter to Congress, Governor Brown said, “Together CHIP and Medi-Cal have cut the rate of uninsured children in California by half in ten years—from 10.3 percent in 2001 to 5.1 percent in 2011. … If federal CHIP funds are not renewed for federal fiscal year 2015, California could lose upwards to $533 million annually. Renewal of federal CHIP funding is extraordinarily important to California’s fiscal stability and the ability to continue to offer cost-effective, affordable coverage to children and pregnant women.”

While the measure still must be approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama (who supports it), one thing is for sure: the legislation is strong evidence that lawmakers are prepared to make big changes in the way Medicare pays doctors and that they understand that extending funding for CHIP is critically important to the health of our nation’s children and working families, and to the fiscal stability of states.

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