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As CHIP Got Caught In Shutdown Blame Game, N.H. Kids Weren't In Immediate Danger of Losing Coverage

Flickr/ Anne and Tim (Creative Commons)

In recent days, Gov. Chris Sununu has used the fate of the Children’s Health Insurance Program as a key talking point in his efforts to publicly pressure New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation to vote in favor of deals to avert a government shutdown. When news broke Monday that such a deal had been reached, Sununu offered a sigh of relief.

(Scroll down for more data on CHIP enrollment in New Hampshire. 

“As a longtime advocate for the children’s health insurance program (CHIP), today’s vote to reopen the government ensures that 14,727 vulnerable Granite State children will have healthcare for six more years,” the governor said in a prepared statement circulated by his office. “I am pleased that Senators Shaheen and Hassan ultimately put politics aside and listened to the people of New Hampshire.”

But, according to state health officials, insurance coverage for those 14,000-plus New Hampshire children wasn’t on the line in this round of federal spending talks — at least not imminently.

In October, Congress missed a key deadline to reauthorize the program, which sent lots of states scrambling to avoid ending kids’ coverage. And before CHIP funding got lumped into the present debate over federal spending, both Sununu and the Democrats in New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation called on Congress to reauthorize the program.

At the same time, New Hampshire officials — including the governor himself — said the thousands of kids enrolled in CHIP in the state were safe, even in the absence of an immediate bill to restore funding.

“What lapsed was the extended CHIP program,” Sununu told the Concord Monitor in October. “New Hampshire had not budgeted for that and planned for it, so the impact of (the failure to reauthorize CHIP) on New Hampshire is very minimal.”

The Department of Health and Human Services said the state accounted for a possible lapse in federal funding when it crafted its latest budget, and — barring any major changes in enrollment — it expected to have enough money where other states were left panicking.

On Monday, state Medicaid Director Henry Lipman confirmed that New Hampshire was still on track to have enough funding for low-income kids’ health insurance until mid-2019 — when the current budget cycle ends — regardless of what happens in Washington.

“We have funding to sustain the program for this biennium,” Lipman said. “I think the issue is whether the enhanced match will come in and how that will affect future budgets.”

While the shutdown votes of the last few days might not have changed things for New Hampshire kids enrolled in CHIP right now, Monday’s deal to extend the program another six years will mean less uncertainty for state budget writers — and the families who depend on the coverage.

CHIP enrollment in New Hampshire has been steadily growing, up 8.4 percent since June. But Lipman says that, on its own, isn’t cause for alarm.

For one, he noted, the overall number of low-income kids getting health insurance help from the state has remained fairly steady — hovering around 90,000. But also, the state has two tiers of health coverage for low-income kids: CHIP (which covers whose family incomes fall between 196 and 323 percent of the poverty level) and non-CHIP (which covers kids whose family incomes fall under 196 percent of the poverty level).

At the same time CHIP enrollment has grown, Lipman said, enrollment in the health insurance program that covers kids at lower income levels has declined.

“What we're seeing, I think, is the improvement in healthcare coverage across the state is reducing the number of people who qualify at the lower income levels and increasing at the higher levels of the CHIP program, and that basically means that improved access in the state is helping our families,” Lipman said.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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