Roughly 120,000 kids in Arkansas could be dropped from the ARKids First health insurance rolls unless Congress extends $195 million in federal funding that supports the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by the Sept. 30 expiration, according to Laura Kellams, director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
A public meeting was held in Springdale on Monday (Sept. 11) sponsored by Arkansas Advocates and University of Arkansas Medical Sciences to discuss the local impact if federal funding is not renewed. Kellams said the last time Congress funded CHIP was two years ago. She and other advocates are asking their Congressmen to expand the timeframe to five years and keep the funding steady in a clean bill.
“If funding is not renewed before the Sept. 30 deadline, I don’t want the public to think they can’t take their kids to the doctor. There is some funding left but it will be used up pretty quickly if the program isn’t extended soon,” Kellams said.
Another concern for Kellams is that the expansion of coverage this year to kids of foreign-born parents. She said the state legislature approved their inclusion in ARkids earlier this year but that won’t happen if funding isn’t extended at the same rate of the past years.
Rep. Jeff Williams, R-Springdale, said at the public forum he has been in contact with federal lawmakers on CHIP funding expiration and has been assured federal lawmakers have not forgotten about the deadline. He said once the funding bill moves out of Senate Finance Committee it should go straight to a vote.
“With 45 legislative days left this year, everything is a priority,” Williams said.
Kellams explained that ARKids A is funded by Medicaid and ARKids B is funded by CHIP. She said children covered by ARKids B are from families whose incomes are within 100% to 200% of the poverty level, The families whose children are covered with B pay a small copay for doctor’s visits and prescriptions.
Marquita Little, Health Policy Director for Arkansas Advocates, said 26% of the state’s children live in poverty, but the uninsured children under age 19 has fallen to 4.9% because of ARKids A and B programs, the bulk of which comes from federal funding.
Little said the federal portion of Medicaid and CHIP funding make up 64% of all the funding Arkansas gets from the U.S. government. She said the medicaid expansion known as Arkansas Works made health insurance available to many more low income adults. The insured rates fell to 18% in 2014 because of medicaid expansion in Arkansas in response to the Affordable Care Act.
Little spoke about the risks to Arkansas if ACA is repealed or funding is restructured into block grants. She said the problem with Block grant funding is that it doesn’t provide for any future rises in health care costs. She said right now the federal government funds some of the rising costs and the state covers some of it. Under block grants or per capita cap funding which is being discussed in Washington, Little said more of the funding burden would fall on the state.
Dr. Eddie Ochoa, pediatrician and director of Community Pediatrics for Arkansas Children’s Hospital, said covering children’s health care is essential to a child’s wellbeing.
“Every time a child drops off coverage there is a risk of missing a new condition or treating a chronic condition,” Ochoa said.
Earlier this year Arkansas Children’s opened a community clinic in Southwest Little Rock to serve a highly Latino area. Ochoa runs this clinic. He said this was possible because of federal funding the hospital gets as between 25,000 and 28,000 children seen at Arkansas Children’s are covered by medicaid. Ochoa agreed that when more parents are covered by insurance they more conscious they are about their children’s healthcare.
Kellams said prior to ARKids being funded in 1997, when a lower income child needed emergency health care from a broken arm or some illness families relied on charity events like chili suppers and bake sales organized by agencies like the Economic Opportunity Agency of Washington County to help the family cover the medical costs.
“A family with a sick child shouldn’t have to know someone who can plan a fundraiser to ensure they can get the care needed for their child,” Kellams said.