September 16, 2014 -- Advocates of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) led by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia argued at a hearing for continued funding for the program beyond its expiration date next year.
Although funding for CHIP ends on Sept. 30, 2015, the legal authorization for the program continues until 2019. Lawmakers will have to decide whether to fund the coverage until then.
Some policy analysts say that it does not make sense to continue CHIP now that families can buy coverage through the new marketplaces created by the health care law.
But Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care that held the hearing, said that coverage under CHIP "generally is better" than insurance available in the marketplaces.
Rockefeller, who is retiring, used the hearing to emphasize the need to provide more funding and establish a record of support for the program before he leaves Congress. Several senators praised Rockefeller for his legacy of protecting the children.
"Safeguarding CHIP so that it can live on for years to come is my highest priority in the time I have left in office," Rockefeller said.
American Action Forum President Doug Holtz-Eakin did not suggest that the program's funding should stop next year, but he did say that Democrats in recent years have expanded the program and that lawmakers should think about whether to narrow the program's mission.
"Subsidized insurance is now available to many families currently enrolled in CHIP, and redundancies in coverage should be considered when making funding decisions, as should the children that are slipping through cracks in coverage created by the" health care law, he said.
"The $10 billion spent on this program in 2014 should not be taken as a given in years to come, and funding should be commensurate with the population needing coverage. CHIP coverage and funding must be assessed in the context of a changed health care landscape."
Holtz-Eakin said that when the 2010 health care law passed, he was one of those who assumed CHIP wouldn't be needed anymore.
But he said "that's just not true." By his estimate, at least 2.7 million children "have a real need for a CHIP program despite passage" of the health care law.
The Georgetown Center for Families and Children showed in a report last year that some families would probably face higher costs and fewer benefits under the marketplace insurance coverage than they enjoy under CHIP.
"No other form of coverage provides the same level of specific care and comprehensive pediatric networks at an affordable cost for working families," said Rockeller. The senator also said that refusing to fund the program would cause headaches for states that had assumed Congress would provide more funding.
Republicans expressed some support for the program. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., voiced enthusiasm for his state's version, which he said is good at "targeting children who are really in need."
"That program is doing well partly because of the flexibility," said Enzi, adding that he hopes that the program will remain flexible. He praised the state's decision to allow Blue Cross Blue Shield and Delta Dental manage the benefits for children.
Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called CHIP "a program where there's a consensus that it genuinely helps people in need." Wyden said that CHIP prevents some children from falling between the cracks and that it reduced disparities between minorities and others.
Advocates such as First Focus President Bruce D. Lesley and American Academy of Pediatrics President James M. Perrin said that continuing funding for CHIP should be a top priority for lawmakers.
Cathy Caldwell, director of the Alabama Children's Health Insurance Program, said that if CHIP funding isn't continued, states may find that they have to shoulder the costs of continuing the program on their own.
"It's going to be a nightmare on many levels," she said, unless Congress continues the program at least temporarily.