CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Local health care providers are urging Congress to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program before the end of next month.
It has been more than 100 days since the CHIP program expired on Sept. 30. States are now faced with shutting down the program.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources predicts a shutdown on Feb. 28 if lawmakers fail to pass a permanent funding solution.
The program is for children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.
A press conference was held Thursday at the Kanawha City Health Center in Charleston where health care advocates discussed the benefits of CHIP and the importance of continuing to serve the nearly 21,000 West Virginia children who depend on the coverage.
“You’re talking about throwing out several thousand West Virginia children off of quality dental, medical, psychological care. If they don’t receive that, then children who may have diabetes or other major pre-existing conditions — their lives are at risk,” said Brad Heflin with the Alliance for Health Care Security.
Craig Robinson, executive director of Cabin Creek Health Systems, said without the program, the community will struggle.
“This is going to be a serious blow to individual families, but also to health providers who are providing services for their children and just for the general welfare of the communities,” he said.
The families enrolled in CHIP are working families, said Joshua Austin, program manager for strategic initiatives for the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center.
“These are blue collar families that are out there sometimes working two or three jobs to be able to make ends meet that can’t afford employer-sponsored health insurance. That’s the type of family that we’re talking about — people that are out there working and just need a little assistance to get coverage for their children,” he said.
State officials are already ramping down efforts to enroll new participants.
“If the funding is not provided by the federal government, families who receive CHIP will begin to get rift letters and discouraging enrollments,” Heflin explained.
Keeping kids healthy should be a top priority, he said.
“It’s not only a crisis in terms of the short term, but in the long term health and stability of the entire country. Without a healthy population, we can’t move forward economically or in any other growth avenue,” Heflin said.
All five members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation have said they support CHIP funding. Heflin said it’s great that West Virginia’s representatives have been vocal about trying to nudge Congress forward, but more people need to get on board.
“We need the leadership of our Congress to get with the program and to wake up to the needs of children,” he said.