April 11, 2011

GOP budget bill slashes CHIP program

Michael Lillis   ·  The Hill   ·  Link to Article

The 2012 budget proposal released by House Republicans this week would slash funding for a popular children’s healthcare program, leaving children’s welfare advocates wondering where millions of low-income enrollees would turn for care.

The GOP’s 85-page budget blueprint doesn’t mention the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but CHIP would lose tens of billions of dollars under the proposal, which was unveiled Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

While the Democrats’ new healthcare reform law extended CHIP through 2019 — and expanded funding through 2015 — the Ryan budget blueprint would repeal most of the that law, including the CHIP language, according to Ryan spokesman Stephen Spruiell.

Ryan’s proposal would also cut Medicaid by $771 billion over the next decade.

CHIP, which provides health coverage to low-income youth ineligible for Medicaid, currently covers almost 8 million children. Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s welfare group, said the Ryan budget “would fundamentally threaten the well-being” of those youth.

“Providing our children with the health care and nutrition they need to grow up healthy is not just the right thing to do, it is critical if our nation is to have a workforce that is prepared to meet the challenges of the future,” Lesley said Thursday in a statement.

Created in 1997, the CHIP program initially had strong bipartisan support. Its initial champions were Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The program was originally authorized for 10 years, leading to a political showdown between the Democratic Congress and then-President George W. Bush in 2007, when Democrats tried to expand the program to include more children. Bush twice vetoed that measure.

After a series of short-term extensions, President Obama signed a five-year, $33 billion CHIP extension into law in February 2009, funding the program through 2013. Last year’s healthcare reform law extended the authorization window by six additional years, and expanded funding to $19.2 billion in 2014 and $21.1 billion in 2015. The Ryan plan would eliminate both provisions, pushing CHIP funding down to $5.7 billion annually, beginning in 2014.

Lesley estimated the change would push roughly 6 million children out of the program before 2020. Additionally, he warned, the Ryan plan’s steep Medicaid cuts mean states wouldn’t have much federal money left over to fund their CHIP programs at all.

“I don’t know how CHIP even survives,” Lesley said in a phone interview.

A separate GOP budget proposal released by the Republican Study Committee, the party’s conservative bloc, goes a step further than the Ryan plan by also repealing the expansion signed by Obama in 2009. The RSC plan would freeze CHIP funding at $5.7 billion beginning in 2012, saving $18 billion over 10 years, the group says. 

The cut in funding, the RSC says, will make the states more disciplined.

“Just as welfare reform in 1996 reduced the number of people living in poverty, reducing SCHIP federal funding would motivate states to more efficiently fund programs,” the proposal reads.