Gov. Kate Brown is urging Oregon’s congressional delegation to “redouble” efforts to fund a children’s health insurance program, known as “CHIP,” that runs out of money next month.
In a letter addressed to Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Brown, who is running for re-election, said Congressional inaction on the issue particularly hurts Oregon.
“Children’s access to health care should not be toyed with,” Brown wrote. “I applaud your efforts to find a CHIP solution, and I urge you redouble your efforts with your Republican colleagues to see it resolved before Oregon incurs more damage.”
The federal program helps lower and middle-income families that otherwise earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid. CHIP, which has earned bipartisan support in Congress, is paid for by a combination of state and federal funding, though the federal government foots most of the bill.
Funding for the program lapsed Sept. 30 while lawmakers worked to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“I think it kind of has taken a back seat in a way to kind of the greater talk about the Affordable Care Act,” said Erin Gorry, whose two-year-old daughter was a CHIP recipient in 2012.
The same day Gorry gave birth to her second child, she learned her daughter, Simone, would have to go into the hospital for osteomyelitis, a serious bone infection.
Gorry had just purchased a new home. She was unemployed during her pregnancy and her daughter didn’t have health insurance.
“We were kind of just a new family starting out and we had no idea how we were going to deal with the medical bills,” Gorry said.
Then a nurse told Gorry about CHIP.
“It really saved us,” Gorry said.
Gorry is now employed as a caseworker and insurance assister with the Oregon Health Authority. She helps families hoping to enroll in insurance programs like CHIP. She said she hears from families concerned about a looming deadline for the program that runs out of money next month.
Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, said OHA is analyzing its finances for recommendations it will send to the governor. He said OHA is looking into how it could manage its finances to keep CHIP afloat on its own while Congress figures out how it’ll uphold its end of the bargain.
“Everyone in D.C. tells us that there’s no question that Congress will fund the CHIP program, it’s just a question of when and so we’re taking them at their word,” Allen said. “It’s simply a matter of needing to find the cash flow right now to get us through the period through whenever it is they act.”
Allen said OHA has “sufficient cash flow” to manage to fund CHIP for a few months into the new year while it waits for Congress to act.
The program in Oregon covers 120,000 children. OHA says 80,000 children who rely on the program are at risk of losing coverage in December. The remaining 40,000 will continue to receive mandatory coverage under Affordable Care Act guidelines.
Brown, who is vice-chair of the National Governors Association Health and Human Services Committee, says she will do her part by urging other governors nationwide to work with their respective delegations to support CHIP reauthorization efforts.
In response to Brown’s letter, Wyden’s office said the senator remains “optimistic” that Congress can set partisan politics aside to keep CHIP afloat. In October, Wyden and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced a bill that would extend CHIP funding through 2022.