Funding at risk for children’s health insurance, clinics

Senator Debbie Stabenow
In an April 25, 2017, file photo, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks during a media availability on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and others are sounding the alarm over the expiration of federal funding that provides health insurance to 116,000 lower-income children in Michigan, saying cancellation notices may be sent to families as early as next month despite bipartisan support for continuing the program.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program was not reauthorized by the Republican-led Congress in September, and lawmakers are at odds over how to pay for a five-year extension. CHIP funds programs such as MIChild, which provides health and dental coverage for children from working families that make more than double the federal poverty level — $43,290 for a family of three.

And in the wake of Flint’s water crisis, Michigan also is allowed to spend some of the federal money to remove lead hazards from the homes of low-income residents in Flint and other communities.

Stabenow, a Democrat, said there will be “very serious” consequences if Congress does not extend funding for CHIP and community health centers that serve the poor and uninsured.

“This is unacceptable. This is something that is bipartisan, strongly bipartisan,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a two-week spending bill to prevent — for now — a government shutdown, which also makes money available to several states that are in danger of running out of CHIP funds this month. Michigan’s allotment has been expected to last until April or May, said state spokeswoman Angela Minicuci. But cancellation notices must be sent 90 days in advance in case the funds are not replenished.

More imminent are funding cuts to the community health centers, which are located at more than 260 underserved urban and rural sites across the state and served more than 680,000 people last year. They will lose 70 percent of their funding starting next month, with more exhausting their federal funds each month through June.

Centers whose grant cycles begin in January — and are at risk first — include Advantage Health Centers in Detroit, Bay Mills Health Center in the eastern Upper Peninsula, Community Health & Social Services Center in Detroit, Covenant Community Care in Detroit, MidMichigan Community Health Services in the northern Lower Peninsula and Western Wayne Family Health Centers outside Detroit.

Among those in the Michigan delegation pushing to renew the funding is Republican Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton. He said last month that CHIP is a “successful federal-state partnership” and called the health centers a “key component of the health care safety net.”

Legislation won approval in the House in November, and a Senate committee that Stabenow sits on OK’d a funding bill in October. But the popular programs have been caught up in talks over several end-of-year agenda items, including the budget, hurricane aid and protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Families in MIChild pay a $10 monthly premium for coverage, and there are no co-pays.

“It literally is saving lives of children in Michigan,” Stabenow said.

The insurance, she said, lets parents who make too much to qualify for Medicaid take their kids to a doctor, avoiding expensive and potentially unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

The Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, which Republican Gov. Rick Snyder created to help address the Flint crisis, is expected to soon send a letter to Congress warning that lead pipe replacement funding will be compromised if CHIP is not extended.

If the funding is not reauthorized, the state may try to keep MIChild and other programs going with additional state money.

“We need to discuss that with the Legislature to see if the funding would be available,” Minicuci said.