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Arkansas Children at Risk as Congress Debates Renewing CHIP

About 120,000 Arkansas children depend on the Children's Health Insurance Program for access to health care. (DMarshall/GettyImages)
About 120,000 Arkansas children depend on the Children's Health Insurance Program for access to health care. (DMarshall/GettyImages)
October 6, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As Congress debates renewing the Children's Health Insurance Program, almost 9 million kids are at risk of losing their health care, including 120,000 Arkansas children.

The program, called CHIP, has traditionally had bipartisan support, but this year, the House and Senate missed an Oct. 1 deadline to reauthorize the program, and advocates say those efforts have stalled over partisan bickering.

Kim Robinson, the national initiative program manager with the Southern Regional Office of the Children's Defense Fund, says if CHIP, which in Arkansas is called "AR Kids," is not renewed, states could begin running short of funds by the first of next year.

"We're hoping that it's going to be a five-year fix and that states aren't having to spend their time and energy and under-resourced resources to come up with a contingency plan to try to make up the funding should CHIP run out," she explains.

News reports say, as of Thursday, a bill to re-fund CHIP had passed out of committee in the Senate, but in the House, Republican calls for changes in funding brought negotiations to a standstill. Democrats are refusing to support a GOP plan to take funds from the Affordable Care Act and Medicare to pay for CHIP.

Robinson says state officials, who put their 2018 budget together assuming CHIP would be funded, are getting nervous over when - or if - the federal money will arrive.

"It does make me have a little bit of anxiety for new applications that came in on October 1 and what happened with those children," she says. "This is a block-granted program and it's all dependent upon how much money there is."

She says if the CHIP program ends or is interrupted, it would hit low-income families hardest.

"There is always a concern whenever any program comes to 'sunset,' she adds. "With the CHIP program in particular, it covers a larger number of children because we're talking about the South, where a lot of poverty exists."

The CHIP program was created in 1997 by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy with support from both sides of the aisle.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR