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Casey Pushes for Full Funding of CHIP

In October, it was Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) who rescued the Children’s Health Insurance Program from oblivion in the Senate Finance Committee. This week, it’s Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) pushing to provide full funding (and then some) for the popular program as the Democrats’ health reform bill moves on the chamber floor.

“We have had some victories in the effort to prevent the dismantling of CHIP, but there is more work to do in order to preserve and improve health care coverage for children,” Casey said in a statement.

Under Casey’s proposal, CHIP would receive full funding through fiscal year 2019 (Rockefeller’s amendment authorized the extension but didn’t fund it), with extra federal dollars going to those states that meet certain enrollment standards. The proposal would also expand CHIP eligibility, requiring all states to cover kids in families living below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

The House health care bill takes a different tack, terminating CHIP at the end of 2013 and transferring those kids to Medicaid or private plans on the health insurance exchange the bill would create. Consumer advocates and some lawmakers fear that that shift would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for low-income families, discouraging them from buying kids’ coverage altogether. Analyzing a similar CHIP repeal in the Senate, the Congressional Budget Office agreed with that assessment.

As a precautionary measure, the House bill would require the White House to compare CHIP plans with those on the exchange, providing Congress with recommendations for a smooth transition. But that report would be due at the end of 2011 — 12 months before the exchange would launch.

The Casey amendment would require a similar analysis of exchange plans versus CHIP, but that report wouldn’t be due until 2016 — three years after the exchange plans have been up and running. That timetable, Casey says, would allow both a more accurate analysis of how exchange plans are performing, and also lend Congress more time to ensure that kids don’t fall through the cracks if the CHIP program is to end after 2019.

No word yet from Casey’s office on how much the amendment would cost, nor on how he proposes to offset the expense. But the senator has scheduled a call with reporters this afternoon, so stay tuned.

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