Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2018

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State eyes Congress as Children’s Health Insurance Program spends final dollars

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L.E. Baskow

Heather Korbulic, executive director or Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, gives an overview of changes as Nevada Health Link hosts the Open Enrollment 5 Prep Rally at the Suncoast on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

The state is looking at alternatives for children who would lose their current health insurance coverage without congressional action.

More than 27,000 Nevada kids receive Children’s Health Insurance Program benefits through Nevada Check Up. Nevada’s program is funded through February, when officials plan to ask the state’s Interim Finance Committee to allocate money to keep the program running.

CHIP funding had expired on Sept. 30. In December, lawmakers approved funding that was expected to last through March, but a Georgetown University report says that money could actually run out much sooner for certain states.

Cody Phinney, deputy administrator of the Division of Health Care Policy and Finance, said Nevada’s program is temporarily funded with dollars approved in December as well as redistribution funds, made up of unspent 2017 CHIP dollars from other states.

“We are looking for other mechanisms that we can use” should Congress fail to extend funding for the program, Phinney said. “We’ll be going to the Interim Finance Committee to ask for permission to use other mechanisms to continue the program through April.”

It’s still unclear how much state funding might be requested, Phinney says, but the federal share of Nevada’s program is about $6 million per month.

Congress is looking at passing a continuing resolution to keep the government open beyond Friday. A temporary or permanent CHIP solution could be part of that plan, but no proposal has been made public as the current spending plan enters its final days.

Other solutions include a bill, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and co-sponsored by both senators from Nevada, that would fund CHIP for the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that bill would save the government money in the long run compared to eliminating CHIP and transferring those children onto more expensive alternatives.

Heather Korbulic, executive director of Nevada’s health insurance exchange, said late last year that if CHIP is shut down, families of those children would be tasked with navigating the exchange. It’s an entirely new system to them with potentially more expensive coverage, she said. Should people lose coverage, they have 90 days to shop for a new plan on the exchange if they qualify, Korbulic said Tuesday.

“We have been working and collaborating with Medicaid and with the governor’s office,” she said. “As a backup plan, should those funds go away, should we not be able to allocate state resources for those people, then the exchange and Medicaid would be communicating and getting those people enrolled as appropriate.”