Policy Resource

Rockefeller Bill Champions CHIP and Seeks Home Visiting Extension

Jun 18, 2014

Ensuring children’s access to health insurance is one of the great public policy success stories.

Any parent of a new baby or a toddler knows they spend more time at the pediatrician’s office than at any other stage. For the youngest children, access to routine health care can spell the difference between a strong beginning and a fragile start. Today, Senator Jay Rockefeller (WV) introduced legislation to prevent some young children from losing critical access to health insurance next year by extending funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), now assured only through FY 2015. CHIP covers children in lower income families that don’t qualify for Medicaid. Thanks to Senator Rockefeller, continuing this lifeline for children who used to fall between the health care cracks is being put on Congress’ radar screen.

Ensuring children’s access to health insurance is one of the great public policy success stories. Between 1997 and 2012, Medicaid and CHIP have cut in half the percentage of children without health insurance, dropping it from 14% to 7%. Letting CHIP funding expire would mean millions of children would lose access to affordable health insurance or the quality services they access through CHIP.

The CHIP Extension Act of 2014 would extend funding for the program through September 30, 2019, the end of the period through which states are required to maintain their CHIP programs. Keeping CHIP going is important to give the state health insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act time to mature and iron out any issues with appropriate services for children.

The bill also includes a provision to extend the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. The so-called “Doc Fix” bill passed on March 31 of this year only extended MIECHV until March 31, 2015. By including a further extension in his bill, Senator Rockefeller is signaling that such an important program for children and families cannot be left to run on short-term deadlines.

In addition to extending CHIP funding, the bill would refine some of the current program requirements. A summary of the bill can be found here. Proposed changes that would particularly support early health and development of infants and toddlers include:

  • Enrolling newborns automatically, as Medicaid already does;
  • Improving access to preventive services, particularly immunizations and screenings not currently covered;
  • Making Express Lane Eligibility (which streamlines the eligibility process by relying on information from other designated programs) permanent to maximize enrollment for children and pregnant women;
  • Extending demonstration programs focusing on perinatal care coordination and childhood obesity;
  • Covering former foster kids to age 26, even if they move from state to state (important to babies, because many of these young adults will become parents, so their health has an impact on their children’s health); and of course,
  • Extending MIECHV.

In addition, the bill would provide important new baby-friendly options that states could choose, including more comprehensive coverage for pregnant women; improved dental services and oral care; raising eligibility to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level; increasing access to coverage for children with special health needs; and doing away with CHIP premiums.

By introducing this bill, Senator Rockefeller lets us and, more importantly, his Senate colleagues know that someone is keeping watch over programs important to young children. It also is a painful reminder that another great children’s champion is leaving Congress after this term. Along with Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and Representative George Miller (CA), who also are retiring, Senator Rockefeller brings decades of knowledge and experience to crafting and moving legislation to make sure our young children get a good start in life. Some stalwarts remain and new champions are arising, but these three will be keenly missed. Let’s hope legislation such as the CHIP Extension Act and the Strong Start for America’s Children Act will be enacted and become fitting bookends to their legacies.

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