In Virginia, Marbell Castillo holds her granddaughter, Maia Powell, during a recent checkup. Virginia is among states hoping Congress refunds the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Matt McClain The Washington Post
In Virginia, Marbell Castillo holds her granddaughter, Maia Powell, during a recent checkup. Virginia is among states hoping Congress refunds the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Matt McClain The Washington Post

Bud Kennedy

Nightmare before Christmas: 32,000 local children face losing health insurance

By Bud Kennedy

bud@star-telegram.com

November 28, 2017 08:20 PM

FORT WORTH

More than 32,000 of our children are about to get bad news for Christmas.

Along with greeting cards and gifts sent by relatives, they’ll find a letter in the mailbox Dec. 22 saying Texas and the U.S. have canceled their health coverage.

To be exact, 32,891 children in Tarrant County and 1,395 in Parker will lose coverage Feb. 1 if Congress does not act in the next few days to renew money for the $15 billion Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

For 20 years, CHIP has covered basic needs for children in families just above the poverty level.

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Texas children already needed more help, and Hurricane Harvey just made it worse.

Children left injured or without homes after the Houston-area flooding were fast-tracked for healthcare and medical coverage. Now they risk losing that coverage.

In an unusual group letter, Texas doctors and hospitals warn that suddenly shifting this many children — 400,000 statewide — to find other coverage under the Affordable Care Act is both complicated and risky.

Many children would probably go without medicines or treatments for a month or more during the changeover in coverage, and some would not qualify for subsidized ACA coverage at all, the hospitals and doctors warned.

“It’s terrible news for any parent to get in December — that in February there won’t be any more health coverage for their kids,” said Anne Dunkelberg of the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities.

“It’s possible a significant number of kids may wind up uninsured,” she said: “For kids with significant long-term healthcare needs, it may be a crisis.”

All this started when Congress didn’t meet a Sept. 30 deadline.

The nightmare scenario is close.

Former Medicare and Medicaid official Andrew Slavitt, at @ASlavitt on Twitter

That dragged through October, but nobody seemed very worried.

Even on Nov. 1, Texas newspapers were running headlines like “Texas kids may not lose health insurance after all, [Gov. Greg] Abbott says.”

With Congress in the middle of a fight over taxes and a potential government shutdown, the CHIP money remains unapproved. It needs to clear the U.S. Senate, meaning help from U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Nobody wants parents to needlessly worry.

“We don’t want anybody panicking, but we have get the word out that this is coming up,” Dunkelberg said.

But look — if I’m counting on Congress to get anything done, then I’d better worry.

As a Virginia official told The Washington Post, “Everybody is still waiting and thinking Congress is going to act, and they probably will, but you can’t run a healthcare program that way.”

Texas doesn’t have enough money to last until Feb. 1. That means the state has to send out cancellation notices by late December.

Texas doesn’t have enough money to last until Feb. 1.

CHIP also covers prenatal care for a number of pregnant women, including permanent resident immigrants. They’re here legally, yet don’t qualify for low-income coverage under Medicaid.

Texas already has too many mothers dying.

The maternal death rate doubled in recent years. It’s been called the worst in the developed world.

If low-income moms lose coverage for prenatal care, that’ll get worse.

Right now, we’re looking to the U.S. Senate for heroics.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a co-author of CHIP, has praised the funding measure but given mixed signals about how fast the Senate can move.

Ask them to wrap this up for kids by Christmas.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

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