Michael Adame of Conroe, Texas, is preparing for Thanksgiving this year like he has for years past. Hes welcoming family from nearby. He expects some 10 to 12 people total to show up. And his wife is going to make tamales in addition to the traditional turkey. Im not crazy about tamales, he teased.
But this year will be different in one fundamental and profound way. Adame will spend the holiday worried that his child might soon lose his health care coverage.
Adames 12-year-old stepson, Abraham, has Down Syndrome and is covered under the Childrens Health Insurance Program in Texas, where more than 400,000 children and pregnant women from low- and middle-income families receive these federal benefits. He goes to a childrens hospital in Houston where Abraham is monitored for a problem with his liverspecifically, to ensure that his enzyme level is where it should be.
I thank God for what we have but if you take this away we wont be able to monitor his liver level, Adame told The Daily Beast. He has regular dental and vision exams as he is growing and maturing and adjusting to a healthy lifestyle.
Since its inception in 1997, CHIP has had strong bipartisan support and been a measurable success, covering nearly 9 million children nationwide. It helped lower the nations percentage of uninsured children from almost 14 percent when it started to about 4.5 percent in 2015. But this year, amid efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Congress allowed the deadline to reauthorize the program to come and go. Almost two whole months have passed since and there is growing concern that no action will come until the end of the year.
Families and state agencies have been forced to scramble amidst the uncertainty. Arizona, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, and North Carolina are expected to run out of CHIP funding next month according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC). Another 27 states are anticipated to have their funds exhausted by March 2018 (PDF).
In Texas, where Abraham lives, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has estimated that money will run dry by the end of February 2018. There are concerns that it may come even sooner, putting families like Adames in emotional turmoil just as the holiday season hits.
Hell go on the computer and watch the Minions and put on his goggles and his hard hat, Adame said describing the things his son likes to do. We try to accommodate the things that he enjoys.
And yet, despite the urgency that is being felt by families dependent on CHIP, Congress appears to be struggling to come to a legislative solution.
On Nov. 3, the House passed a bill to reauthorize funding for the program. But only 15 Democrats voted in favor of the measure, criticizing it for draining funds from Obamacare to pay for the reauthorization. The Senate as a whole has yet to take a vote on its own bill, leading to charges from Democrats that Republicans are prioritizing tax reform over the health of millions of children.
Senator [Ron] Wyden (D-OR) is fighting every day to get this urgently needed funding across the finish line before millions of our countrys children lose the health care coverage their families depend upon, a spokesperson for Wydens office told The Daily Beast. As the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee and co-author of the bipartisan bill to extend CHIP funding for five years, he remains optimistic common sense and decency will prevail over partisan politics, and Republicans will put aside the tax charade long enough so essential coverage can continue.
Families dependent on the program have been left waiting anxiously for signs of progress.
I dont understand at all, Holly Keich, a mother of two in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, told The Daily Beast. Its been 10 years that weve been on it with no issues. We send our paperwork in every year. It gets renewed.
Keichs children, a 10-year-old boy and a nearly 6-year-old girl, have been on CHIP since they were born, she said. And during that time, theyve both been healthy. But without the program, her familys finances would be complicated as theyd have to look for alternate options for health care coverage. Given Christmas and her and her husbands upcoming birthday, she said, there might be more coupon clipping in the future.
Other families have turned to GoFundMes and used op-eds to raise awareness like in St. Louis where Myra Gregory said she is worried about her 10-year-old son Roland Williams, who relies on CHIP to help with his affliction from a rare form of lung cancer.
There are so many other families out there that wont even get treatment or be able to find out whats wrong, or know that anything is wrong with their child, Gregory told NBC News. I am very appreciative of all the help that Ive received. But not receiving this is detrimental and can mean my sons life.
In the interim, some states have taken matters into their own hands. In Wydens home state of Oregon for instance, the Oregon Health Authority announced this week that it would work to extend coverage for some 80,000 children and 1,700 pregnant women through the end of April. The move was done at the urging of Gov. Kate Brown, even though it could result in a shortfall in the states budget. Previously, the state had secured $51 million in leftover funds to last through December.
Idahos Department of Health and Welfare intends to look for a means to cover the states children through Medicaid rather than CHIP if reauthorization doesnt happen soon, Chris Smith, public information officer with the department, told The Daily Beast. And there is a similar contingency plan in Arizona.
We expect the current funding to sustain the KidsCare program into December, Heidi Capriotti of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System told The Daily Beast. If Congress takes no action to reauthorize funding soon, Gov. Ducey has a contingency plan to move money from a Medicaid program that covers a separate group of low-income children, into the KidsCare program. The children covered will not see any changes in their coverage or to the program.
In Texas, advocates worry that funding will run out sooner than anticipated due to recovery effort needs following Hurricane Harvey. That could mean that families will receive a 30-day noticeabout the program ending right around Christmas.
Theyre kicking the can down the road but this is one thing they really cant kick down the road, Adame said.