Fed funding of health insurance for 74,000 TN children threatened; TN Democrats see ‘political games’

Absent action soon by Congress, funding for a federal program that provides health insurance coverage to 74,000 Tennessee children and pregnant mothers could soon run dry, reports the Times Free Press. State officials, including Gov. Bill Haslam, are worried about the possibility.

The program (known nationally as Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP) is operated in Tennessee as CoverKids. According to the state’s TennCare Bureau, 73,998 children, teens and expectant mothers received coverage through the program as of Oct. 31. The program provides subsidized health coverage for families who don’t qualify for the Medicaid program for the poor yet don’t earn enough money to buy coverage on their own.

With some 9 million children, teens and pregnant women served nationwide through CHIP programs, officials in some states are already serving notice to those covered that their federal funding soon will be exhausted.

Absent federal action, remaining funding in Tennessee’s CoverKids program would run out in the second quarter of 2018. Sarah Tanksley, a spokewoman for the TennCare Bureau, said officials estimate that would be sometime in May. Warning notices likely would go out in March, she said.

Haslam and his counterparts are urging Congress to come to a funding resolution quickly.

“I am concerned,” the Republican told reporters Monday. “People will have to realize that if that doesn’t get re-authorized, we’ll be providing less services.”

Federal dollars provided an estimated 99 percent of CoverKids’ $174.9 million total cost during the state’s 2017 fiscal year, according to officials. Of that amount, Tennessee government provided $6.84 million.

Press release from House Democratic Caucus:

NASHVILLE- The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus is calling on U. S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and the entire Tennessee U.S. Congressional delegation to extend the federal block grant that funds CoverKids.  CoverKids is funded under the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and provides health insurance for more than 100,000 Tennessee children.  In the last budget, fiscal year 2016, the state received more than 400 million dollars in CHIP funding.  However, the funding cycle for CHIP ended in September and unless funding is extended, it’s estimated that the Tennessee allocation will run out of money by May of next year.  It’s estimated that some states will run out of their allotment as early as later this month.  Several Caucus members objected to the possible lack of funding:

Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville said, “We can’t afford to play political games when it comes to taking care of Tennessee children.  Congress needs to find a way to save this critical program. And we are calling on the Senators and Representatives from Tennessee to lead the charge and protect our children.”

Memphis Representative Raumesh Akbari, Chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, said, “As elected leaders, we must protect and speak out for those that cannot speak out for themselves, especially our children.  Beyond politics, it’s our people that matter most.  I urge our TN Congressional delegation to extend block funding for the thousands of Tennessee children whose health coverage depends on this federal program.”

Representative John Ray Clemmons (Nashville) said “The CHIP program and CoverKids are vital resources for many Tennessee children who need them most.  As a father, I feel strongly that the health and well-being of all children is paramount, and our government must do right by Tennessee families.”

“Our children are our must important business.  Health and education must remain a high priority relative to adequate funding in the growth and development of all Tennessee youth”, stated Representative Barbara Cooper, who represents Memphis and part of Shelby County.

“There are too many families that fall in that hole of ‘we don’t make enough to purchase our own insurance but, we make too much to qualify for TNCARE!’’, added Nashville Representative Sherry Jones.  “There is also the group of children the state took into custody and put into foster care who age out of the state ‘system’ and must have insurance coverage.  These children, in many circumstances, can be covered by CHIP.  It is extremely cruel to keep any child from insurance coverage!”

Clarksville Representative Joe Pitts said, “Playing cat and mouse with the lives of children and pregnant women by delaying and potentially jeopardizing the continuation of the federal CHIP and state CoverKids programs is cruel, especially at this time of year.  It does beg the question, what, if anything is more important than the health of children and women in the United States?”

“It’s a despicable, immoral and inhumane act to play a deadly game of politics with the health and the very lives of our precious and innocent Tennessee babies and other children in our nation,” Memphis Representative G. A. Hardaway added. “It’s exceptionally insensitive and extremely heartless of Trump and the Republican Congressional members to snatch health-care away from our babies at a time when infant mortality is rising especially in Memphis/Shelby County.  It’s shameful to cause consternation among mothers and fathers by creating uncertainty as to whether we will provide vital health care needs for babies and children.  Let me remind you, Donald Trump and all the members of our Tennessee Congressional delegation, of our moral obligations and our constitutional responsibilities to protect and care for our most vulnerable little Americans.”

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said, “Our children are our most precious resource, and to allow them to be used as pawns in political gamesmanship is reprehensible.  We are elected to take care of those who are most vulnerable, and kids are the most vulnerable of our state and nation.  I join with my colleagues in calling for our members of Congress to do what is right and fund CHIP and the CoverKids grant program.”

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