El Dorado News

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December 15, 2017
El Dorado News Times
News-Times

News-Times

Kids’ coverage near deadline

Without renewal, insurance program finishes in March

This article was published December 5, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

Arkansas children and pregnant women covered by a federal health insurance plan will continue to be covered until the end of March, even if Congress does not reauthorize funding by then, state officials said.

What happens after that is up in the air, they said. Families could opt for pricier private insurance, or have no coverage at all.

Congress has not reauthorized funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers more than 48,000 children and pregnant women in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The program provides low-premium coverage to people who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but who can’t afford to buy private health insurance.

Arkansas received $194,356,170 in 2017 to administer the program here.

Nationwide, the $15 billion program covers nearly 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women.

Six states and the District of Columbia have said they will run out of funding as soon as Jan. 1.

Officials with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said they want to see Congress act soon to extend the program.

“If you walked into work and were told that you only had health insurance for the next four months, how would you feel about that?” Children’s Hospital CEO Marcy Doderer said.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted in November to reauthorize the program for five years partly by cutting a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act prevention fund and increasing Medicare rates for higher-earning senior citizens, The Washington Post reported.

All four of Arkansas’ representatives voted in favor of the bill.

The Senate has agreed on a bill but not a method of funding the program, The Associated Press reported.

Spokesmen for Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said he supports reauthorizing the program and does not have specific conditions for supporting it.

A spokesman for Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he favors extending the program but “is open to changes that improve the effectiveness and sustainability of the program.”

For parents or pregnant women who might be worried about their health care, “the only advice I would give them is we definitely want to see them come to get care,” said Rick Barr, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Delaying care means treatment will be more expensive in the long run, he said.

Doderer said concerned people should interact with advocacy groups or call their representatives.

This is the longest Marquita Little said she recalls going without a reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Little, the health policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said her organization is “absolutely” concerned about re-authorization.

But she’s glad Arkansas’ members of Congress support the program and is hopeful that Congress will fund it.

“It’s hard to be optimistic, quite frankly,” Doderer said.

She said Congress has struggled to “push things through” and added that lawmakers have had several big issues before them this fall.

“This is but one of them,” she said.

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