Medicaid and CHIP are catching uncovered kids, the ACA helps

Due to high rates of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage for young children, only 3.3 percent of children ages three and younger were uninsured in 2016. Coverage of both young children (age three and younger) and their parents increased under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) in 2014 and 2015—a trend that continued in 2016. According to an Urban Institute report, young children and their families continued to rely on Medicaid and CHIP in 2016, with 48.5 percent of young children covered by Medicaid or CHIP. In comparison, only 42 percent of older children were covered by the programs.

Trends. Nearly half of young children and one-fifth of the parents of young children were covered by Medicaid and CHIP in 2015 as well. The high incidence of Medicaid and CHIP coverage is partly due to higher incidence of family characteristics among parents of younger children, including lower incomes, younger parents, and mixed immigration status.

Variance. Despite high overall levels of coverage, the prevalence of health insurance coverage for young children and their families continued to vary across state lines. Uninsurance rates were below 2 percent in 12 states but above 8 percent in three states—Alaska, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Additionally, the expansion of state Medicaid programs under the ACA continues to be a significant source of variation in state uninsurance levels for the parents of young children. For example, an estimated 8.7 percent of parents of young children in expansion states were uninsured in 2016, whereas 18 percent of parents of young children were uninsured in nonexpansion states.

10-Year CHIP extension would save $6B

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that a 10-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program would cut $6 billion from the deficit, since the program allows the federal government to avoid paying higher costs for alternate insurance obtained through federally-subsidized marketplaces (CBO Report, January 11, 2018).

The CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation had previously estimated that a five-year renewal for CHIP would add $0.8 billion to the deficit, down from its previous estimate of $8.2 billion. The change stems from Congress’s repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) individual mandate. Without CHIP, parents would be more likely to seek federally-subsidized coverage offered through health insurance marketplaces set up by the ACA, and CBO expects that the individual mandate’s repeal will lead to lower enrollment and higher costs in those marketplaces (see Eliminating individual mandate lowers cost of CHIP funding, Health Law Daily, January 8, 2018).

A longer CHIP extension, through S. 1827 the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act of 2017, would yield even higher net savings, the CBO said in response to a question by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ). The KIDS Act would increase the deficit from 2018 to 2020, and decrease the deficit every year thereafter, because the federal matching rate for CHIP would decline from an average of 93 percent in 2019 to 70 percent in 2021 and subsequent years. Under the KIDS Act, the federal costs of insuring children through CHIP would decline as states pick up more of the costs, and would allow the government to avoid paying higher costs for alternative coverage through the marketplaces, Medicaid, and employment-based insurance.

Eliminating individual mandate lowers cost of CHIP funding

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) lowered its estimate of the deficit impact of legislation that would fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years, finding that CHIP had become less expensive relative to the rising costs of providing alternative coverage through the federally-subsidized health insurance marketplaces (CBO Report, January 5, 2018).

Prior estimate

The CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation previously reviewed S. 1827, the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act of 2017, in October, finding then that it would add $8.2bn to the deficit. The new estimate finds that the bill, which would also change the federal matching rate for the program and state eligibility requirements, would only increase the deficit by $0.8 billion over the next ten years.

Individual mandate

The change stems from Congress’s repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) individual mandate. Without CHIP, parents would have to seek alternative coverage, including federally-subsidized coverage offered through health insurance marketplaces set up by the ACA. Without the individual mandate, the CBO expects lower enrollment and higher costs for the insurance marketplaces, which increases the federal cost of enrolling a child in coverage through the marketplaces. The rising marketplace costs make CHIP a more cost-effective alternative to funding children’s health costs, the CBO found.

Expiration of federal funding threatens state CHIP programs

In light of the fact that federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired on September 30, 2017, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analyzed the impact upon states and potential outcomes. Without an extension of federal funding for CHIP, KFF reported that states have or will run out of federal CHIP funding and may face budget shortfalls for CHIP, which covered 8.9 million children in 2016.

According to KFF under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) the enhanced federal funding matching rate was further increased by 23 percent. With this, the CHIP federal matching rate ranged from 88 percent to 100 percent. Because nearly all the states included federal funding for CHIP when creating their FY 2018 state budgets, nearly all the states will face a budget shortfall if the federal funding is not extended.

In the absence of an extension of federal funding for CHIP, some states will have to reduce CHIP coverage. States that have CHIP-funded Medicaid expansions must maintain the underage under the ACA “maintenance of effort” requirement, leaving state costs to increase in the face of lower federal Medicaid match rate. However, states with separate CHIP coverage are not required to maintain it, and states may freeze enrollment or discontinue CHIP coverage altogether.

In the short run, states can continue to use federal funding accrued through the September 30 expiration. Eleven states reported that they would run out of federal funding for CHIP by the end of FY 2017, and at least one state reported that their funding would be depleted at the expiration date. By redistribution of unspent CHIP funds, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was able to provide enough additional funding to allow that state to maintain coverage without a budget shortfall through October. CMS was also able to provide redistributed funds to several other states that were close to running out of funds.

In order to address the expected states’ budget shortfalls, Congress is working on legislation for continued funding. Both the Senate and the House have reported bills out of committee to provide an extension of federal funding for CHIP. The bills from the House and Senate contain many of the same provisions, including a five-year extension for federal funding of CHIP and a transition down from the enhanced 23 percent match provided by the ACA. However, the House bill includes some additional provisions not included in the Senate bill. Both bills still need to be debated and voted upon by the full House and Senate, and if both are passed, Congress will have to reconcile the difference between the two bills.