By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved legislation to continue a federal insurance program for millions of lower-income children and pregnant women, but with an ongoing funding battle it could be weeks before the program gets more money.
The House Republican measure was approved 242-174 largely along party lines. It would continue the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years. But Democrats warned the partisan House approach would not fly in the Senate, further delaying cash for the program that expired over a month ago.
“This bill is going nowhere … the Senate will not take it up, and we will be waiting around until Christmas” to get funding, Democratic Representative Frank Pallone warned. Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and 60 votes are needed for passage there.
CHIP, which provides health insurance to about 9 million children, has been a bipartisan program since its creation 20 years ago and reauthorizing funding has not been contentious – until now.
Under President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, healthcare issues have become highly politicized as Republicans have repeatedly failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, a top Trump campaign promise.
The program’s funding lapsed on Sept. 30, but most states have enough money to continue it past 2017. Still, 11 states, including Colorado, California, Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania expect to exhaust their funding by the end of the year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Another 21 states anticipate running out of money by the end of March 2018.
The House bill extends the program for five years, and continues funding of community health centers for two years. It also includes $1 billion for Medicaid programs in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, hard hit by recent hurricanes.
The bill became controversial after Republicans added provisions that would affect the Affordable Care Act, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.
They include slashing funding from the law’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which among other things helps fight the opioid epidemic, and making it easier to kick people off Obamacare plans for non-payment of premiums.
However, Republican Representative Greg Walden pointed out the bill would block for two years the Medicaid cuts for hospitals that would otherwise occur under Obamacare.
Democrats criticized the legislation for asking Medicare’s wealthiest one percent of beneficiaries, those who make more than $40,000 each month, to pay more to help fund health insurance for low-income children.