Thousands of Michigan kids caught in health insurance gap

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — More than 100,000 Michigan children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance are at risk of losing health insurance.  

The federal government failed to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before Oct. 1. Now it’s uncertain if funding will be restored.

CHIP is an insurance plan for working families, said Meghan Swain, executive director for the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.

Most funds provide health care to children through the MIChild program and to pregnant women, said Angela Minicuci, communications director at the Department of Health and Human Services. There are 116,000 Michigan residents  covered by the program.

It’s vitally important to providing health care to children of lower income families, said Emily Schwarzkopf, a health policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“Without it, children would not have access to regular doctors appointments, the ability to get preventive care or immunizations, Schwarzkopf said. “If a kid is sick, they can’t go to the doctor and they can’t get medication.”

The program provides health insurance to almost nine million children. Five states have already run out of the funding but received a little extra money from the federal government to help support the programs, Schwarzkopf said.

Michigan is in somewhat better shape.

“We have funding that will bring us through about April or May of next year,” Minicuci said.

But the agency is preparing to  warn participants of looming changes in early 2018.

“We will need to begin notifying residents that coverage may be ending or changing,” Minicuci said.

CHIP has had bipartisan support in Congress and until now there have been few obstacles to getting the funding reauthorized.

“Should we run out of funding, we would need to do a couple of things,” Minicuci said. That includes asking state lawmakers for new funds or finding another source of them or cutting the program.

“We could partially fund some programs,” she said. “We might need to change the types of coverage that some programs have.”

What happens depends on whatever funding solutions state legislators develop.

“There is the possibility that should we not have federal funding identified and the state is unable to identify funding to cover that CHIP funding, individuals could lose the coverage that they receive through CHIP funding,” she said.

Schwarzkopf said the league hopes if funding is not restored, the state will find a way to pick up the tab.

“Obviously that would be a lot of money that the state would not be receiving from the federal government, so you have to look at what funding is available,” she said.