Children's Health Program Funding In Jeopardy

Dec 21, 2017

With money for Florida's subsidized children's health-insurance program due to run out in a matter of weeks, the state has not warned the parents of roughly 200,000 children that they could soon lose coverage.

Florida's decision contrasts with other states that have decided that they can no longer wait to see if Congress restores money for the 20-year-old Children's Health Insurance Program, according to Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Federal funding for the so-called CHIP program ran out in September, and while there have been promises to restore it, a final deal has not emerged from Congress. Alker's center on Wednesday released an analysis that shows which states are projected to soon have shortfalls.

State officials have verified that funding for Florida's program --- which is operated primarily through the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. --- would run out at the end of January. Twenty-four other states are also projected to run out of money at the same time.

The funding shortfall does not impact the roughly 2 million children who are in Florida's Medicaid program --- but instead affects those children whose families are just above the poverty line.

Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, said the state was “closely monitoring” to see if Congress will restore the money.

“We are hopeful that Congress will bring this issue to a resolution very soon,” McManus said in an email.

But McManus acknowledged that if that does not happen, “it our goal to provide the families with as much as notice as possible.” She added that at a minimum, families would get a “30 day notice,” which means the state would be required to send out notices by the end of December.

Alker said there is no federal requirement to send out notices, but she said states are going to also have to cut off new enrollment at some point. She said her organization has been “unable” to get answers from Florida about its plans, but she said the blame still belongs on Congress for failing to act.

“Congress has left states in an extremely difficult situation,” Alker said.

Neighboring Alabama is freezing enrollment on Jan. 1 and then will begin to disenroll families currently in the program at the start of February. Virginia has also put parents on notice that coverage could end soon.

The administration of Gov. Rick Scott has remained somewhat quiet as the deadline looms.

Scott's press office has said the Republican governor is in favor of extending the popular children's health insurance program, but Scott has not come out strongly to call on Congress to act. On Wednesday, Scott asked Congress to pass a hurricane relief package that Florida and Texas officials are seeking.