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PeachCare funds could dry up in weeks without a new deal in D.C


By Andy Miller, Georgia Health News ~~

Georgia could run out of federal funding for its PeachCare for Kids program as early as next month, state officials say. Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which includes Peach- Care, expired Sept. 30, putting the future of the popular insurance program in limbo. CHIP covers almost 9 million children nationally. Through PeachCare, it covers roughly about 130,000 children in Georgia.

The program provides insurance to children in working families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid for their kids, but cannot afford or obtain private coverage. The U.S. House passed a bill in early November that funds the CHIP program for five years, but the U.S. Senate has yet to act. Members of both parties in Congress agree that money should be approved for CHIP for five years.

But they disagree over how to pay for it. To keep the program going, states with unspent federal CHIP money have seen their excess sent to a handful of states running low on funds, Kaiser Health News (KHN) recently reported. But some large states are warning families they may not be able to rely on CHIP for much longer. All told, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has given out $1.2 billion in redistribution dollars since October, KHN reported earlier this month.

The Georgia Department of Community Health said Monday that if the state maintains its current funding, Georgia will run out of money for PeachCare in March, if the congressional impasse continues.

But a spokeswoman, in an email to GHN, added that if the feds “recapture our carryover and Georgia does not receive a redistribution, the state will run out by January.’’ The spokeswoman, Fiona Roberts, said that if states have unspent funding from the previous year, they can carry it over into the next fiscal year. “CMS has issued a request on what one-third of the amount for each state would be, and that is what they would recoup from each state and then redistribute,” Roberts said.

As of last Wednesday, nine states had exhausted their fiscal 2017 allotments and had received redistribution funds from CMS to continue coverage. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that about three-quarters of states anticipate exhausting their funding by the end of March 2018 and that several states have begun or will begin notifying families about coverage reductions before the end of 2017.

Georgia receives about $400 million in federal funding annually for PeachCare. Rick Ward, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told GHN that the group “is very concerned” about the CHIP funding situation. “We’re concerned that Congress is playing with fire with this issue,” Ward said. “It seems like it’s becoming a pawn in [the debate over] the greater tax reform bill.

That seems very unwise for these children and their parents.” Axios reported Monday that Congress is unlikely to pass a multiyear funding solution for the Children’s Health Insurance Program until January, according to House GOP leadership sources.

But it will continue to pass temporary measures to make sure states get the funding they need until then. Meanwhile, states are weighing whether to freeze enrollment in CHIP, shut down their programs or find money from other sources, the New York Times reported.

Colorado sent letters to CHIP families, advising them to start researching private health insurance options because there was “no guarantee” that Congress would continue the program. Texas has drawn up a detailed “termination timeline” under which the state could begin mailing insurance cancellation notices Dec. 22, three days before Christmas, the Times reported.

Andy Miller is CEO and president of Georgia Health News and an award-winning journalist at the AJC for 24 years.