Colorado’s CHP+ program is set to run out of money Jan. 31.
What we think:
It’s time for Congress to take action to save the health care program for low-income children and pregnant women.
The latest ludicrous example of how good ideas fall victim to partisan politics: the failure of Congress to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Plus Program, known in Colorado as CHP+.
Held hostage to the whims of Congress: 75,000 children and 800 pregnant women in Colorado. Nationally, about 9 million kids and 370,000 pregnant women are waiting on Congress to stop dragging its feet.
Those are families too poor to pay for private insurance, but who make too much for other state safety-net programs. They’re families with children who are sick, with disabilities, with chronic illnesses.
The CHP+ plan in Colorado provides insurance at low or no cost to families making between 138 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level — between $34,000 to $61,000 a year for a family of four.
The funding, set to expire Jan. 31, comes mostly from federal tax dollars. The state pays about 12 percent of CHP+ funding, and the federal taxpayers pick up 88 percent. It has kept the uninsured rate for Colorado’s children at 2.5 percent — and is a huge success story for the state.
Nationally, the Kaiser Family Foundation credits the program with reducing racial disparities in coverage. The program, along with Medicaid, covers more than half Hispanic children and black children, compared to a quarter of white and Asian children.
It’s a decades-old program, designed to help poor families meet the rising costs of health care. But — despite bipartisan support — Congress has refused to act and that leaves families in Colorado seeking new ways to provide health insurance for their families.
Colorado isn’t alone. If Congress doesn’t act, 16 states will run out of money for the program at the end of January. Another 21 will run out of money in March.
How much money is needed to keep the program in place? Seventy-five billion dollars over the next five years. In Colorado, we spend about $128.2 million a year for the program.
Without the program, the state will spend more money to care for these families — they could have to change doctors, go on Medicaid or enroll in Connect for Health Colorado, all of which will add administrative costs to the state’s budget.
And any private insurance options — assuming the children can obtain private insurance — would come with high deductibles, premiums and co-payments.
This matters to all of us.
The children and pregnant women will have to get their health care from other places — and in most cases, will add to the uncompensated care costs that hospitals labor under now. While the CHP+ program — and the Affordable Care Act — has limited the rise in uncompensated care, loss of the program now would leave providers with few options — and one of those is passing on the costs to people with health insurance.
Without CHP+, hospitals will have to negotiate higher rates with insurance companies to cover the cost of caring for people unable to pay for medical bills and who also don’t have insurance. In turn, those insurance providers will shift the cost to businesses and individuals — increasing premiums for everyone.
By failing to act, Congress is placing a heavier burden on state budgets — and on the bottom lines of businesses. As insurance premiums go up for everyone, fewer people will be able to afford the rising costs, and instead opt for taking their chances without insurance. That, in turn, will again raise rates for the people holding insurance. It’s an unsustainable scenario — and one that is easily fixed. The CHP+ program passed Congress during the Clinton years with bipartisan support and has been renewed year after year with the same bipartisan support. Politicians claim they support it still — so it’s time to take action.