Miami-Dade County

Florida silent on children’s health insurance program future

Gov. Rick Scott has been silent on the future of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal-state partnership that covers more than 400,000 children in Florida. Federal funding of the program is due to expire on Sept. 30, 2015, unless Congress acts.
Gov. Rick Scott has been silent on the future of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal-state partnership that covers more than 400,000 children in Florida. Federal funding of the program is due to expire on Sept. 30, 2015, unless Congress acts. EL Nuevo Herald

A bipartisan group of governors from 39 states is supporting extended federal funding of the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which covers more than 8 million kids and their families nationwide, including about 400,000 children in Florida.

But Gov. Rick Scott has not joined the chorus.

Scott’s office declined to explain why the governor has been silent on the issue after ranking members of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee sent letters to governors of all 50 states in July asking for their input on the future of CHIP.

While the program itself is authorized through September 2019, federal funding must be renewed by Congress before October 2015 if CHIP is to continue.

States are waiting for Congress to approve funding for CHIP beyond the deadline so they can decide whether to appropriate matching funds for the program before state legislatures begin meeting next year. Florida’s Legislature begins meeting in March.

In the letters, congressional leaders asked governors about the numbers of individuals served by CHIP in their states, impacts to their programs from the Affordable Care Act and whether the governors recommended continued funding.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said Scott’s silence on the issue betrays the legacy of past Florida governors who championed children’s health — principally, former Gov. Lawton Chiles, who in 1991 authorized the creation of the Healthy Start program to offer universal risk screening of pregnant women and newborns.

Chiles later built on that program with the Florida Kidcare Act of 1998, which expanded healthcare coverage to more than 250,000 Florida children by using federal funding for CHIP. Congress had enacted the program in 1997.

“It is very surprising and disappointing that Governor Scott would not respond to a bipartisan congressional request for his views on CHIP,” Alker said.

“Florida's children have more at stake in this debate than the vast majority of states — 400,000 children over the course of a year could lose health coverage and become uninsured,” she said. “And there are significant federal dollars for the state at issue.’’

Should Congress not reauthorize funding for CHIP, Alker said, the state could lose about $495 million to $560 million in federal funds.

At issue in the debate over federal funding of CHIP is whether subsidized health plans sold on state and federal exchanges created under the ACA provide an adequate alternative. But proponents of CHIP funding say they worry those alternatives may offer poor access to care or higher cost-sharing for lower-income families. Opponents say they’re concerned that CHIP shifts people who can qualify for private coverage to Medicaid.

Scott’s silence on the issue appears to run counter to the state’s position just weeks ago, when on Dec. 4 the Agency for Health Care Administration, which manages Florida’s version of CHIP, said an official response to the congressional inquiry was coming.

But now AHCA will offer only a statement: “Florida values the CHIP program,’’ said Shelisha Coleman, a spokeswoman.

Coleman directed all further questions on the topic to the governor’s office, which did not reply to a request for an explanation.

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