Children’s health insurance funding issues could affect San Juan County

If a federal health insurance program for low-income children isn’t funded by the U.S. Congress, county families will lose affordable coverage.

“It would result in fewer children on health insurance and the burden would go to the family [to find coverage],” said Ellen Wilcox, manager of San Juan County Community Health Department.

Funding expired in September for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Coverage in Washington will end on Feb. 1 if Congress does not vote to renew funding.

The federal program paid $242.5 million to Washington families in 2017, but the exact dollar amounts and number of families potentially affected, per county, have not been determined.

Gov. Jay Inslee released a letter in early October stating that, if funds are not provided prior to Dec. 1, affected families will be mailed notification on that day about the suspension of coverage.

CHIP supports a portion of children enrolled in Medicaid, called Apple Health in Washington, which provides free or discounted insurance for the low-income and disabled with state and federal funds. In San Juan County, 1,414 children are enrolled in Medicaid, including some who are funded by CHIP.

Amy Blondin, with the Washington State Health Care Authority, noted that the loss of coverage will most likely come as a shock to families.

“All they know, really, is that they are enrolled in state health care coverage, with little to no idea what funding stream provides their coverage,” said Blondin. “We do anticipate, if we do have to notify these families, a lot of concern and a lot of confusion.”

Children whose families earn up to 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level are eligible for Medicaid in Washington. If federal funds are revoked, the state will still have to fund those below that range.

Washington’s policy, said Blondin, is to fund coverage for children whose families are even slightly higher in income, at 312 percent of the FPL. The families between the state law’s requirements and its policy (251-312 percent of the FPL) are the ones who will lose out, said Blondin. This totals about 15,700 children, funded at $23.9 million.

Families who lose coverage can purchase through the state-run marketplace for Affordable Care Act plans. However, said Blondin, this will provide “significantly higher premiums” than the CHIP-funded Medicaid programs they currently use. These plans are offered at $30 premiums per child, with a maximum of $60 per family, no matter how many children are included.

Open enrollment for Obamacare plans runs through Jan. 15 to be covered by Feb. 1, giving those affected about a month to find coverage by the time the notification letter will be mailed. Purchase an ACA plan at from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15. Enroll by Dec. 15 to be covered by Jan. 1. Read more about 2018 ACA plans for county residents in the article “One health insurer remains for San Juan County individual plans.”

Medicaid Enrollment

Enrollment is open, year-round, for Medicaid, also known as Apple Health in Washington. Make appointments for enrollment help with:

  • San Juan County Health and Community Services at 378-4474.
  • San Juan Island Family Resource Center at 378-5246.