Warning: CHIP program to run out of money in Delaware

DOVER — Funding for Delaware kids in the Children’s Health Insurance Program is expected to run out in February, causing thousands of children in the First State to lose health care coverage unless Congress acts, officials said.

Congress failed to pass legislation extending funding before last month’s deadline, although Delaware has a few months’ worth of federal money left.

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee announced Sept. 12 they had reached a deal, but the bill was never voted on.

CHIP, as it’s known, offers low-cost health care to 8.9 million children who do not have health care insurance covverage and do not qualify for Medicaid because their parents earn too much money.

In Delaware, anyone younger than 19 whose family earns less than 213 percent of the federal poverty level but is not on Medicaid is eligible.

Medicaid eligibility varies by age, but for most children, the dividing line is 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

In terms of real dollars, that means a Delaware family of four that earns less than $51,516 a year and does not qualify for Medicaid can get CHIP coverage for children.

Enrollees pay monthly premiums of $15 or $25 depending on their income. They do not have copays.

A spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services said about 8,300 Delaware children are currently enrolled. Should Delaware not receive federal funding, the added cost could total $13 million a year, according to the DHSS.

The state already pays about $2.9 million every year for CHIP.

Delawareans covered through the program receive a wide range of services, such as mental-health counseling, drug-abuse treatment, physical therapy, x-rays and lab work.

Delaware is far from the only state that will be in trouble in Congress does not authorize funding: The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access
Commission estimated in July that 30 states would run out of federal funds by the end of March in that event.

The legislation introduced in Congress would extend CHIP by five years and lower the federal matching rate.

Members of Delaware’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, lamented that no extension has been approved, with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester calling the potential loss of funding “devastating.”

In 1997, the year CHIP was enacted, 13.9 percent of Americans under 18 were uninsured. In 2016, the rate was 5.1, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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