By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor
June 11, 2014 -- Retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller is seeking to influence the fate of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) he championed during his career by introducing a bill to keep money flowing into the program for four more years.
The funding for CHIP is currently set to expire on Sept. 30, 2015. The West Virginia Democrat's bill would extend the money through Sept. 30, 2019. That would match the time frame for when the legislative authority for the program would need to be reauthorized under current law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).
If CHIP funding ends, then many children would probably end up on their families' private coverage, such as plans that they buy through the new marketplaces created by the overhaul law. But Rockefeller predicted that nearly 2 million kids would end up uninsured.
He also noted that the rest of the more than 8 million children who are now covered by CHIP might get more limited coverage or face higher out-of-pocket costs in private insurance. A study by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found that Arizona children who had to leave CHIP and get their coverage through the new marketplace often faced higher costs. That was especially true for families at the lowest income levels, those with more than one child and those with children who had significant health care needs.
Rockefeller's bill would go beyond the recommendation of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, known as MACPAC. It voted April 11 to recommend to Congress that it extend CHIP funding through fiscal 2017. Commissioners said it is "unclear whether or not exchange plans are ready to serve as an appropriate alternative."
Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack said in an recent interview that dental benefits in particular are much less generous in private insurance than in CHIP.
"At a time in which we as a nation are moving forward in improving coverage, it'd be a huge step in the wrong direction to go backwards with respect to coverage for low-income children," he said.
Children's health advocates issued statements supporting Rockefeller's bill. The supporters included the National Health Law Program, First Focus Campaign for Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, Children's Dental Health Project, Children's Defense Fund and Children's Hospital Association.
However, getting significant health care legislation through Congress could be difficult, even on an issue like CHIP, which has often had bipartisan support in the past.
In the House, lawmakers have not yet reached agreement on a different CHIP bill.
"We all agree CHIP is critical, which is why I have been reaching across the aisle to work [with] my colleagues in the majority on a bipartisan bill in the House," said Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, in a statement to HealthBeat. "Ensuring the health of our nation's children must be a top priority for Congress and continuing the CHIP program will help millions American kids and their families."