Children’s Health Insurance Extended, But Dreamers Left Out of Legislation

CHIP was founded on research that shows that a number of children’s health problems can be prevented if a pregnant mother or young child has access to medical care. Photo: Thinkstock

The 1.3 million California pregnant women and children covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program don’t have to worry about losing their health care.

As part of Monday’s deal between Congress and President Trump to end the federal government shutdown, CHIP was extended for six years.

Child health advocates expressed relief but said they were concerned about the length of time it took to get to this point. The 20-year-old program, which has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, expired Sept. 30. Congress had approved a temporary extension of the program, which would have expired in California sometime in March.

“We are happy that it’s been taken out of the political football going on with spending,” said Jen Flory, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Policy.

CHIP provides healthcare to low-income families. The program is a federal-state partnership and each state is given some flexibility about how to administer the program. In California, the program is folded into Medi-Cal and the majority of people enrolled in CHIP get a Medi-Cal card.

CHIP was created to ensure that pregnant women and children have health coverage when they need it most. The program is founded on research that shows that a number of children’s health problems can be prevented if a pregnant mother or young child has access to medical care.

Michael Odeh, director of health policy for the advocacy organization Children Now, said that while he appreciates the extension of CHIP, he wishes Congress would have extended the program for four additional years to 10 years total. Such a move would have given greater assurances to families funded by the program, he said.

He also raised concerns about the federal government’s contribution to CHIP expenses being reduced from 88 percent to 65 percent after 2020.

“The state will be on the hook for a greater share of CHIP costs,” after that point, he said.

HD Palmer, deputy director for external affairs at the California Department of Finance, said the state assumed in its planning that the federal government would reduce its share of the expenses. The deal approved by Congress is better than what the state anticipated, which is that the federal government would reduce its share to 65 percent starting this year, he said.

The actual cost of running CHIP will be determined by how many people enroll. Palmer said he appreciates that Congress did extend CHIP.

“It takes one uncertainty off the table,” he said.

Several California advocates—including Odeh, Flory and Cary Sanders, director of policy analysis at the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network—expressed dismay that Congress didn’t include the DREAM Act in Friday’s legislation. The DREAM Act would offer protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. If enacted, the legislation would allow undocumented young people to live and work in this country without fear of deportation.

“We believe that we shouldn’t be choosing between and pitting one program against another – kids against kids,” Sanders said. “Some of the Dream Act kids are some of the (CHIP) kids and vice versa. It’s great we’re providing health insurance coverage for them.

“These youths are part of our economy, contributing to California. We want to see a solution that takes in everyone.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer agreed to end the shutdown on a pledge by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote about the status of those immigrant youth in coming weeks. California senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris voted against ending the shutdown because the deal didn’t not include the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to permanent residency for those youth.

“Closing the government isn’t something I take lightly but we’ve been debating the DREAM Act for almost 20 years now with constant opposition from Republicans,” said Feinstein in a statement.

Harris said she doesn’t trust McConnell to address the DREAM Act. “I refuse to put the lives of nearly 700,000 young people in the hands of someone who has repeatedly gone back on his word,” she said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to continue to protect Dreamers from deportation.”

Republican Congressman Paul Cook, of San Bernardino, said in a statement that he voted to end the shutdown in part because the bill provides health care to 55,000 children in his district.

“While I’m pleased this shutdown was short-lived, this disruptive and unnecessary stunt should never have happened” he said.

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