Ohio officials plead with Congress to renew children‘s health program

Jack Torry Dispatch Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – In a sign of mounting exasperation with Congress, officials from the Kasich administration and children’s hospitals in Ohio called on lawmakers to quickly approve a multi-year extension of a children’s health program that provides coverage to as many as 220,000 low-income Ohio children.

Although members of the U.S. House and Senate have indicated that next week they will re-authorize what is known as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, officials in Ohio warned that sharp disputes among lawmakers allowed the 20-year program to lapse at the end of September.

In a conference call with reporters today, Greg Moody, director of Gov. John Kasich’s office of health transformation, said this is a program supported by both Democrats and Republicans and “if this can’t get done, that is a worrisome sign” about Congress’ ability to deal with major issues.

Nick Lashutka, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, said it was “especially frustrating” that Congress has taken so long to extend the program because “it’s almost been without debate it would receive re-authorization.”

Congress kept the program going last year by including money in a temporary spending bill that keeps the government through next week.

Although the five-year cost of the program was originally projected at $8.2 billion, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported this month that the program would add less than $1 billion to the federal debt during the next decade.

The CBO explained the lower cost to the government was because Congress last year ended financial penalties for people who do not buy federally subsidized insurance policies through the 2010 health law known as Obamacare. The CBO concluded that many parents may opt to insure their children through CHIP rather than buying the more expensive federal subsidized policies.

If Congress fails to renew CHIP, many states would have to drop hundreds of thousands of children from their health care.

By contrast, Ohio will maintain its CHIP enrollment no matter what Congress does. But if Congress fails to renew CHIP, the state would have to shift as much as $15 million a month from other programs to pay for children’s health insurance.

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