Minnesota running out of money for children's health insurance program

Minnesota officials are hoping Congress quickly reauthorizes a health insurance program that helps provide coverage for 125,000 children and pregnant mothers before funding runs out.

The Sept. 30 deadline passed without Congress taking action on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP,  though committees have drafted new legislation to take its place.

Department of Health Services Commissioner Emily Piper traveled to Washington, D.C. recently to discuss the looming deadline with lawmakers.

“I think there was a real question in Washington, D.C. about when states would run out of money," Piper said. "I wanted to make sure that our entire congressional delegation knew that we were going to be one of the states that ran out of the money fastest."

Piper said the state received $3.6 million in federal funding to continue coverage without disruption, but only through the end of October.

CHIP is funded jointly between state and federal governments, with states administering the program. It helps cover needed health benefits like vaccinations and checkups for children whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford private insurance. In Minnesota, CHIP also funds prenatal and postnatal care for 1,700 expectant mothers who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

Until reauthorization is approved by Congress, Minnesota taxpayers will be paying more of the bill for CHIP.

“It puts a gap in the state’s budget," Piper said. "But it allows us to continue coverage while Congress presumably moves forward to reauthorize this critically important program."

Representatives of nonprofit Merrick Community Services in St. Paul said programs like CHIP are critical to helping low-income families. The organization helps match families with needed services like health care.

“These are individuals with dependent children, and so they’re directly affected by these type of decisions,” said Brandon Griffin, development director of Merrick Community Services. “It becomes one more barrier to self-sufficiency, another thing that staff have to work around to help meet their needs.”

Committees in the U.S. House and Senate will meet Wednesday to discuss reauthorizing CHIP. Significant differences between the two bills, including how to fund CHIP moving forward, remain. That could prolong discussions for a fix. It also remains possible that Congress could change eligibility or funding formulas for CHIP, which would also lead to changes at the state level.

More than nine million children are a part of the program nationwide.