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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Senate Passes CHIP Funding Bill, Continuing Vital Program for 8 Million Children

Shannon Attanasio

Senior Director of Government Affairs

Last night, the Senate voted to approve a bill extending funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 passed by a 92-8 vote, after the House passed it in a show of overwhelming bipartisanship last month. President Obama is expected to sign this bipartisan legislation into law. 

As Families USA’s Executive Director Ron Pollack said, “The Senate should be congratulated for moving swiftly on this.”

Along with repealing and replacing Medicare’s flawed structure of paying doctors, this law also provides a clean extension (meaning, there are no significant programmatic changes to CHIP) for CHIP funding for two years. While Families USA would have preferred a four-year extension to align CHIP’s funding with its authorization—which goes through fiscal year 2019—we are relieved that 8 million children will continue to receive the affordable, high-quality, child-appropriate health care they currently receive through CHIP. 

In addition to CHIP, this law also extends or makes permanent several key health programs that benefit low-income Americans.

  • This law makes permanent the Qualified Individual (QI) program, which helps older adults with very low incomes and assets (about $14,100 to $15,900 per year—and less than $7,280 in assets) afford their Medicare Part B premiums.
  • It also makes permanent the Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) program which helps families temporarily continue health coverage as they transition into the workforce. This program ensures that low-income, working families have stable access to health care until they can afford to purchase a private health insurance plan, or become eligible for employer-sponsored insurance.
  • This law includes funding for community health centers, which was set to expire this coming September. The funding is now extended for two additional years. This is wonderful news—in 2013, more than 1,300 federally funded community health centers served more than 22 million patients.

The passage of this bill was a real victory for champions of children’s health care. So, with funding for CHIP resolved for two years, and a handful of other programs funded for two years or made permanent, what’s next?  Our attention now turns to the Congressional budget process.  Both the House and Senate Republican budgets propose severe, draconian cuts to programs health care advocates care about, including, but not limited to Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act.  We’ll also continue to be on the lookout for any proposals, legislative or otherwise, that seek to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act.