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Child Advocates Urge Congress to Reject the State Flexibility Act

Health

Washington D.C. – Today, the First Focus Campaign for Children urged Members of Congress to reject the State Flexibility Act (H.R. 1683/S. 868), legislation that will put at risk the health coverage of an estimated 14 million children and fundamentally reverse the enormous progress our nation has made in reducing the number of uninsured children.

The State Flexibility Act would repeal a provision of the health reform law that requires states to maintain current eligibility and enrollment requirements for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Without this so-called “Maintenance of Effort” (MOE) provision, scores of children currently covered by either Medicaid or CHIP would be dropped from coverage.

In a letter delivered today to Members of Congress from the First Focus Campaign for Children, the group stated: “While proponents of the State Flexibility Act claim that the legislation is necessary to help states better operate their Medicaid programs, the fact of the matter is that there is nothing in the bill that gives states any new authority to achieve this goal. The only new authority permitted in the legislation allows states to cut low-income children, people with disabilities, and senior citizens off of coverage.”

A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the bill would significantly increase the number of uninsured individuals, especially children. In fact, under the State Flexibility Act, two out of every three individuals at risk of losing health care coverage are children. Over the long-term, the bill will have an increasingly severe impact on CHIP, resulting in half of states entirely eliminating their CHIP programs by 2016, and the remaining states scaling back their coverage for children. CBO estimates that by 2016, 1.7 million children will have been dropped from CHIP coverage, leaving some children uninsured completely and enrolling others in the new state exchanges created as part of the health reform law.

The American public strongly oppose such an outcome. In fact, according to a recent poll, by a two-to-one margin, voters oppose providing states more flexibility if it means eliminating coverage for some children.

“As families struggle to recover from the economic downturn, it is seriously misguided for Congress to consider any proposal that would dismantle the Children’s Health Insurance Program, said Bruce Lesley, President of the First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan advocacy group. “Since its inception in 1997, CHIP has proven to be a cost-effective program that provides remarkable results, reducing the number of uninsured children by almost a third – even as uninsured rates for adults increased steadily. Today more than seven million low-income children depend on the program’s comprehensive benefits that specifically address their unique health care needs while limiting families’ out-of-pocket costs.”

Outlined in the letter are two principles the First Focus Campaign for Children urges Congress to follow in order to maintain our nation’s record of success for children’s health coverage:

1. Congress should not reverse past progress and enact new policies that would make children worse off in terms of their health coverage.

2. Congress must ensure that our health system continues to support care for children that meets their unique health and developmental needs, including the availability of pediatric networks of care delivery.

As stated in the letter, “Unfortunately, H.R. 1638 violates both principles… Therefore we urge the Congress to reject the State Flexibility Act and instead find other ways to achieve fiscal relief for states. Rather than creating a pathway that increases the number of uninsured children in this nation, Congress must focus on solutions that help achieve savings for states while also improving access, quality and care delivery in Medicaid and CHIP.”

Lesley added, “Balancing budgets on the backs of children doesn’t add up to a positive future for the next generation or our country. Instead of placing children directly in harm’s way, we urge Members of Congress to reject the State Flexibility Act and instead work with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the important gains won for children’s coverage are protected even during these tough economic times.”

Download a copy of the letter
Download a fact sheet outlining how the State Flexibility Act Harms Children