When Congress returns from its two-week recess on Monday, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that would extend the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beyond its September 2015 expiration. We are hopeful that a four-year extension of this important program may still be possible, although a two-year compromise looks more likely.
SGR Repeal: The CHIP funding extension is part of a larger bipartisan bill: the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2). This "doc fix" legislation, which overwhelmingly passed the House on March 26th (392-37), would permanently repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula for Medicare physician payment. The SGR payment formula, enacted as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, was a flawed effort to constrain Medicare spending. The formula called for physician fee reductions that required frequent short-term Congressional overrides, which became known as doc fixes.
The new bill is designed to encourage doctors to emphasize high-quality care over sheer quantity of patients and tests.
The Senate will have just two days to pass the SGR-CHIP legislation next week, before an April 15th deadline when a build-up of SGR overrides will otherwise kick in and cause a 21% cut in doctor reimbursements for the treatment of Medicare patients.
CHIP Extension: This House-passed legislation also provides for two years' reauthorization of CHIP, through September 2017. Without this extension, CHIP will expire this September, putting coverage at risk for millions of low-income children whose families would face significantly higher premiums. In fact, nearly 2 million kids could lose coverage altogether if CHIP expires. For more details on the specifics of the children's insurance provisions in this SGR-CHIP package legislation, see this info-packed blog post by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute: House Passes 2 Year CHIP Extension Included in 'SGR' Compromise Deal.
While a two-year extension of the program provides short-term security for families, an earlier version of the reauthorization called for a more stable four-year extension. We agree with The New York Times Editorial Board, which wrote on Monday: "If there is time, the Senate ought to amend the bill to provide a four-year extension." Several Democratic Senators may try to do just that, although both sides of the aisle seem to agree that reauthorization for two years is better than no reauthorization at all.
CHIP is a widely-supported program, with three-quarters of Americans and at least 39 governors in favor of its continuation. CHIP safeguards the health of our nation's most vulnerable children who are otherwise at risk of falling through healthcare gaps, so we can and must do better for their families by ensuring its long-term security.
We know that battling childhood cancer is hard enough without the added weight of looming health insurance expiration. That's why we at the Children's Cause urge the Senate to join their House colleagues and vote to #ExtendCHIP for at least two more years.
Want to take action before the Senate votes next week? Make your voice heard: