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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 1:00 am


Healthy choices

CHIP, community center reauthorizations can't be ignored in year-end legislative rush

Congress will be feverishly trying to deal with several high-profile, high-stakes issues in the days ahead. The tax-cut proposals. Averting the looming government shutdown. Shoring up – or tearing down – the Affordable Care Act. Helping those who were covered by the DREAM Act.

Another important piece of business that should have been dealt with routinely in September is still awaiting action: reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Community Health Centers Fund.

These are programs that predate Obamacare and have enjoyed bipartisan support for years. Both Indiana senators – Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Todd Young – have expressed support for both funding efforts, and U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, praised CHIP during a community discussion last month.

People in Indiana depend on both programs. According to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, coverage for 115,000 children in Indiana is at risk if the program's funds aren't renewed at the current level. The Neighborhood Health Clinics in Fort Wayne is one of 19 federally qualified health centers in Indiana that will have to cut services if Congress doesn't extend the health centers fund. Angie Zaegel, Neighborhood Health Clinics president and CEO, estimates the clinic will lose $2.3 million in annual support, forcing it to deny coverage to up to 3,000 low-income clients.

The shortfall wouldn't hit the Fort Wayne facility until May 1, but community health centers in other states would be affected much sooner. And the impact of Congress' failure to act on CHIP may be felt in some states even faster. According to the Denver Post, health officials in Colorado will begin mailing letters to families there next week warning them their children's health coverage could be cut off by Jan. 31. Official cancellation letters will be mailed in that state later in December if Congress hasn't resolved things by then.

“I will continue to push for the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program and funding for community health centers by the end of the year,” Donnelly said in emailed comments Tuesday afternoon. “If these vital programs are not reauthorized, Hoosier children could lose access to health care and Indiana's federally qualified community health centers could be forced to make difficult choices, including reducing their workforce, imposing hiring freezes, or shutting their doors entirely.”

Zaegel said Tuesday she is concerned that the issue will be forgotten among the other pressing issues before Congress. “Until I hear officially that we're losing our $2 million,” she said, “I'm going to be hopeful.”