North Carolina Officials Say State Funds Would Allow Additional CHIP Program Enrollment
North Carolina social services directors, "frustrated" by the state's decision to freeze applications for Health Choice for Children, the state's non-Medicaid CHIP program, say that state officials could continue to enroll eligible children if they would contribute more matching funds to the program, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Health Choice officials, primarily blaming an expected lack of federal funds in the future, said in November that they would freeze applications beginning Jan. 1.
Children's Advocates Critical
Since the announcement, social services departments statewide have "worked furiously" to enroll children, adding 1,000 per week. Last week, a group of children's advocates said that the state could avoid a freeze by paying "enough of a match" to tap $150 million in unspent federal funds. "We understand that there is federal money. Whether there's state money is the question," Earl Marett, president of the North Carolina Association of County Directors of Social Services, said. Paula Wolf, chief lobbyist for Covenant with North Carolina's Children, blamed the state for the planned enrollment freeze. "The problem right now is a state problem. The governor could unthaw the freeze, " she said.
What About the Future?
According to state officials, however, continuing to enroll new members in Health Choice may "jeopardiz[e]" the future of the program. State officials agree that there is currently enough money not to open enrollment but are concerned that more children enrolled now means higher costs in the future. More specifically, they are worried about health care inflation that is expected to rise "12 % a year"; and a "26% drop" in the size of the overall federal allotment starting next year that will last for the next three." You can make assumptions that Congress will fix the years where there's a reduction in spending, or they'll give the state the difference in what it needs and what it spends, but all that's hypothetical," Dick Perruzzi, director of the Division of Medical Assistance, said. "We never want to go to a child and say, 'Sorry, you're out luck, we have to cut you off now,'" Health Choice Coordinator June Milby said. Despite having been one of only 10 states to receive extra federal funding ($21 million for the state) for having spent all of its 1997 CHIP allotment, state officials say that Congress must allocate more money to meet the program's long term goal of enrolling all of the state's uninsured children. In the short term, the state Legislature will decide whether to fund the program, despite a "tight" budget year, or "do nothing." In addition, Gov. Jim Hunt (D) is "exploring options" with the state budget office. As of late November, about 71,600 children had enrolled in the program (Wilson, Raleigh News & Observer, 12/21).