In these challenging times, public health insurance is a critical lifeline to families navigating both the public health and economic crises resulting from COVID-19. With unemployment figures soaring to double-digits, an increasing number of children are eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Allies for Children is working to ensure families who are newly eligible for Medicaid and CHIP as a result of recent income losses are informed about the availability of these programs, and is fighting at the federal level to protect children’s coverage from cuts that could result from decreasing revenue and increasing costs to states amidst the economic crisis.
Last month, Pennsylvania saw an increase of 3,938 children enrolling in CHIP, bringing the total to 200,365 children, the highest enrollment for the program to date. This follows an increase of 10,236 between March and April. Data released last week shows an increase in children participating in Medicaid, up 1.3% to 1,217,215. Approximately 49 percent of the estimated 228,000 children in Allegheny County receive health care through public programs, including 15,100 children covered by CHIP and 96,700 by Medicaid. Of all Medicaid recipients in Pennsylvania, 42 percent — the plurality — are children.
Given the changing landscape, it is possible that the number of families eligible for public insurance will continue to grow. Moreover, Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services is reporting that while it has seen increases in applications, it has not yet experienced the surge it was expecting. As the crisis continues, we must ensure these vital programs are funded and able to serve families in need, ensuring children receive health coverage during their critical early years of life and are poised to grow into healthy and thriving adults.
Allies for Children is joining partners in calling for members of the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation to protect Medicaid by increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), the portion of the program funded by the federal government, beyond the across-the-board bump in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First) to levels similar to what was enacted during the Great Recession. As Allies for Children reported previously, Families First provided a 6.2 percentage point FMAP increase. Advocates estimate that Pennsylvania would lose more than a billion dollars a year if Congress fails to further increase the FMAP as it did during the recession of 2001 and following the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Moreover, we call on Congress to keep strong Maintenance of Effort requirements in place to protect vulnerable Medicaid beneficiaries, thus prohibiting states from cutting Medicaid eligibility, making it harder to enroll, disenrolling families previously enrolled or newly enrolling, charging higher premiums, increasing cost-sharing and reducing benefits during the public health emergency. We additionally seek a postponement of the previously scheduled reduction in the CHIP enhanced match. This enhanced FMAP to CHIP programs was scheduled to be eliminated over two years, with the second half scheduled on October 1, 2020. Congress should delay this loss of CHIP funds beyond the end of the public health emergency and through the end of the related economic downturn. Finally, we call on Congress to consider additional funding to states and municipalities to offset this unprecedented need.
While the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) that passed the House this month addresses increasing the FMAP, together with ensuring a strong Maintenance of Effort requirement, it faces an uncertain path forward in the Senate. Additionally, the legislation does not address postponing the scheduled reduction in the CHIP enhanced match. To ensure Pennsylvania is not forced to cut Medicaid, restrict eligibility to make ends meet in a time when hospitals may be stretched thin, or implement waiting periods for CHIP, please consider having your organization sign on to this letter organized by our partner, Pennsylvania Health Action Network (PHAN), by close of business today, May 28.
If you, the clients you serve, or anyone you know need help enrolling in public health insurance, our partners at Consumer Health Coalition are ready and able to serve you. Simply call 412-456-1877, extension 205.