On November 3rd, the House of Representatives voted 242-174 to pass the Championing Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 3922), a bill that extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers. It also reauthorizes several public health programs, including a two year extension of the Family to Family Health Information Centers. This bipartisan bill reauthorizes federal funding for CHIP for the next five years. CHIP provides low-cost health insurance to roughly 8.9 million children under the age of 18 who do not qualify for Medicaid or have access to private insurance. Current federal funding expired on September 30, the end of Fiscal Year 2017. However, some states have been able to carry over this federal funding and keep their programs running longer than others. While there was bipartisan agreement on the reauthorization of these critical programs, there was a major disagreement about how to pay for the bills. The provisions to pay for the reauthorizations included a large cut to the Prevention and Public Health fund, an increase in Medicare premiums for high income people, changes to Medicaid third party liability provisions, and changes to the treatment of certain lottery earnings in the Medicaid program. The Arc supports the reauthorizations but has concerns about the funding proposals. Read more here.
Now is the time for individuals who are uninsured or looking for affordable health insurance to investigate the private health insurance plans available through state marketplaces (to find your state information visit the health care website). During “open enrollment”, a person can purchase private health insurance through the marketplace in each state. There may also be financial assistance to help with health care costs available for low and moderate incomes. It is also important for people who currently have insurance through the marketplace to look at the plan to determine if it will continue to meet their needs. Individuals who do not take action will be automatically re-enrolled in the current plan. Re-enrollment is also an important opportunity for people to report any changes in income. To learn more, read The Arc’s blog post.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) this week. While there is bipartisan support for reauthorization of the program, there is disagreement on how to fund it. The current bill funds the program with Medicare and Medicaid changes. The Arc does not support paying for bills in ways that hurt Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries and urges the House of Representatives to continue seeking appropriate funding options with bipartisan support. To learn more, read The Arc’s blog post.
On October 19, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on “Examining How Healthy Choices Can Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce Costs.” Witnesses were Steve Burd, Founder and CEO, Burd Health; Michael F. Roizen, MD, Chief Wellness Officer and Founding Chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic; David A. Asch, MD, MBA, John Morgan Professor, Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School, Executive Director, Center for Health Care Innovation, University of Pennsylvania; and Jennifer Mathis, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. In her testimony, Mathis discussed the negative impact that regulations that define programs as “voluntary” when they charge penalties for non-participation have on the rights of people with disabilities. Visit the committee web site to review opening statements and archived video.
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), along with 22 other co-sponsors (11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, 1 Independent), released a bill to continue cost-sharing reductions payments under the Affordable Care Act for two years. The bill also partially restores federal funding for consumer outreach and enrollment assistance. Additionally, it makes changes to the Section 1332 waiver process, making it easier for states to get waivers of certain parts of the law, provided certain standards are maintained. For more information, read The Arc’s blog post.
On October 12, President Trump issued an executive order aimed at weakening protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The order instructs agencies to identify and consider ways in which plans can be offered that do not meet the ACA’s requirements. These changes, if implemented, have the potential to drive up the cost of plans that provide adequate benefits and coverage for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. See The Arc’s statement here.
Later that day, the White House announced that it would stop cost-sharing reduction payments. The ACA requires insurance companies to substantially reduce out-of-pocket expenses for beneficiaries with incomes under 250% of the poverty level and provides for reimbursement from the federal government. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this decision is likely to increase the number of uninsured Americans, premiums, and the federal deficit. For more information, see The Arc’s blog post.
On October 4, The House Energy and Commerce Committee also approved several bills addressing a variety of issues supported by The Arc including extending funding for community health centers (H.R.3922), a two year extension of the Family to Family Health Information Centers, extending the Medicare Independence at Home Medical Practice Demonstration (H.R.3263) making permanent a provision that allows Medicare coverage for speech generating devices (H.R.2465) and several other bills. Unfortunately, the Committee also voted to reduce $6.35 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund over 10 years. The fund supports many prevention and public health programs throughout the country.
On October 4, the Senate Finance Committee passed the Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act (S.1827). This bipartisan bill reauthorizes federal funding for the next five years to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program which currently provides low-cost health insurance to roughly 8.9 million children under the age of 18 who do not qualify for Medicaid or have access to private insurance. Current federal funding expired on September 30 at the end of FY 2017. However, some states have been able to carry over this federal funding and keep their programs running longer than others. The Finance Committee has not yet indicated how they plan to fund the $8 billion needed for CHIP to continue. The bill is set to move to the Senate floor for consideration after the forthcoming recess.
Also on October 4, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Helping Ensure Access for Little Ones, Toddlers, and Hopeful Youth by Keeping Insurance Delivery Stable (HEALTHY KIDS) Act of 2017 (H.R.3291). This bill also reauthorizes the federal funding for the CHIP program for five years. While there was bipartisan agreement on the reauthorization, the Committee members disagree about how to pay for the bills. The bill included an increase in Medicare premiums for high income people, changes to Medicaid third party liability provisions and changes to the treatment of lottery winners to pay for the reauthorization.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) cancelled plans to hold a vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill. With Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 having ended on September 30, Congress can no longer use that fiscal year’s budget reconciliation process to pass the bill with a simple majority vote. It now requires 60 votes. This victory would not have been possible without the disability community. Had this bill become law, it would have:
- Capped growth in per capita Medicaid spending at below the cost of providing services;
- Replaced premium tax credits and Medicaid Expansion funds with a block grant that grows more slowly than current law and expires after 2026;
- Redistributed funds away from states that accepted Medicaid expansion; and
- Allowed states to let insurers sell plans that cover fewer services and charge more based on health status or disability.
The Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson Proposal on September 25 was marked by high attendance of disability advocates. Protesters from ADAPT started a chant of “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty” and their arrests delayed the start of the hearing by 15 minutes. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) mentioned The Arc’s advocacy and showed the stack of letters with stories from our advocates across the country.
While the cancellation of the vote on the “Graham-Cassidy” bill closed the door on Congress’s best opportunity to pass this legislation for now, there are still major challenges ahead. The 115th Congress can write two more budgets, one each for FY 2018 and FY 2019. With each budget, there is an opportunity for one reconciliation bill which requires only a simple majority to pass in the Senate. The reconciliation bill for FY 2018 will most likely focus on tax cuts. It is possible that Congress will attempt to cut Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, or other programs that pay for basic livings needs of people with disabilities as a way to offset revenue reductions. Additionally, Congress could attempt to pass an Affordable Care Act Repeal with Medicaid per capita caps and major tax legislation in one package. In summary, fewer pathways now exist to cut program that cover basic living expenses, but threats still remain. See article above for Congressional efforts to develop a new budget resolution similar to the most recent efforts which allowed for consideration of major Medicaid cuts and repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
On October 4, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a markup on a bill to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) program. This markup will come after the program’s funding expires. Some state’s programs ran out of funding on September 30. The Arc urges swift passage of legislation to continue this vital program. See the committee’s announcement for more information.