Louisiana Children's Program Gets A Few Extra Weeks Of Money

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A short-term infusion of cash from Congress for a health insurance program for low-income children has given Louisiana a few extra weeks to pay for coverage, but that money is expected to run out sometime around March.

Before the short-term patch approved by Congress before the holidays, the Louisiana Department of Health projected the state would run out of federal money for the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, by the end of February.

Andrew Tuozzolo, health department chief of staff, said Monday the agency hasn't finished its calculations of just when federal dollars will run out. But he said the timeline has been pushed back slightly because of the congressional action.

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"It's given us a little bit of a reprieve," Tuozzolo said. "We're talking about a matter of weeks, not months."

The department had been planning to start sending notifications this month to recipients' families about the impending loss of federal money and the implications for coverage. But Tuozzolo said those notification letters have been postponed until next month.

About 120,000 Louisiana children up to age 19 from low- to moderate-income families receive insurance coverage through the Medicaid-based program along with 3,000 pregnant women from similar income levels, according to the health department.

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"It's a tremendous boon for the state. We find it to be fundamental for health care provision in Louisiana, and we're hopeful that it's renewed as soon as possible," Tuozzolo said.

Renewal of CHIP has widespread, bipartisan support, but that financing has become tangled with other contentious issues.

"Everybody knows it's going to be renewed. It's a good program. It's good on the arithmetic side. It's good in terms of moral, public policy. You can't be a good productive adult if you grow up unhealthy," Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said in an interview.

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But Kennedy didn't offer a date for when he expected renewal — and the timeline for congressional approval without creating a cash crunch in states is running short.

Without a reauthorization for CHIP, Louisiana would have to come up with millions of dollars more each year to keep the coverage in place even as it struggles with continued financial problems. That could eventually lead to having to boot people from the program or, at the least, reducing their services, according to the health department.

CHIP is financed through states' Medicaid programs, with the federal government covering most of the cost for the children's insurance and states paying a portion.

In Louisiana, the state pays about 3.4 percent of the price tag for the children's insurance coverage, rather than the nearly 37 percent required to draw down federal funds to pay for some other services offered through the Medicaid program, according to the health department. If Congress doesn't reauthorize the financing, Louisiana would have to start paying the higher cost share to keep the program's services intact.

-By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

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