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Congress takes step to re-authorize child health insurance program
Funding to re-authorize the Children's Health Insurance Program will likely need to come as part of a larger funding package on the floor of the U.S. Senate, according to representatives from the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.
CHIP funding is used to cover gaps for students without health insurance at Virginia Garcia's school-based health centers in Washington and Yamhill counties, including a clinic at Century High School in Hillsboro.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the program earlier this month, and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici celebrated what she said was a mixed bag of funding. The Beaverton democrat listed CHIP founding as among her top priorities during a visit to a clinic at Hillsboro's Century High School in October.
The bill's renewal in the House was bittersweet for Bonamici, who mourned cuts to other areas, including the Prevention and Public Health Fund in a statement on Nov. 3.
"I'm disappointed that this hasn't been a more bipartisan process in the House of Representatives," she stated. "Rather than work toward a compromise that has a chance of becoming law, the Majority in the House has instead pushed this through by cutting one important public health program to fund another."
The center was threatened with closure or budget cuts after Congress allowed the CHIP program to expire in September in the wake of several battles on health care. Without a new bill, funding for Oregon's CHIP program would run dry in the spring.
Officials at Virginia Garcia said failing to re-authorize CHIP funding would force school-based clinics to shrink in hours or services, and even though lawmakers have supported the program, there is plenty of work to do.
"We still feel like the environment is very uncertain for all of Virginia Garcia," said Serena Cruz, Executive Director of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation.
Virginia Garcia faces threats of lost federal and state dollars, in addition to medicaid cuts, Cruz said.
"We are very much working to engage staff and patients and others in our communities to be telling the story about why health care matters," she said. "What we're focused on is to persuade the policy-makers. Bonamici is already deeply committed to securing coverage for everyone."
The bill, which has moved on to the U.S. Senate, would cut around $25 million in funding for Oregon health care issues over the next five years, according to Bonamici's statement.
The Senate Finance Committee, which Wyden chairs, advanced a CHIP bill in October.
"Congress must get a CHIP bill to the president's desk as soon as possible – every day that goes by without action means more harmful consequences for families and states," Wyden said in an Oct. 4 statement.
Regardless of the future of CHIP funding, Cruz said her biggest concern Measure 101, which would extend a tax on medical providers to fund health care for low-income Oregonians.
"It's up in the air right now, but this is a significant piece that Oregon can secure," Cruz said. "We don't have to wait on federal funding or expect the rest of the nation to do something we can do here in Oregon."
The bill won't forever solve Virginia Garcia's funding sources, she said, but it would be a big help.
"We will work with the folks in this state to secure that source of funding and maintain Medicaid in Oregon so everyone has access to high-quality health care," Cruz said.