Scott promises to cover potential federal cuts to children's health insurance

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Changes to federal child health care funding regulations could leave Vermont on the hook for millions. Congress hasn't acted to approve federal Medicaid funding for children's health insurance, but Gov. Phil Scott is promising that none of Vermont's children will lose coverage.

"We will do whatever we have to do to make sure that we continue to have that," Gov. Scott said this week.

Federal funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program -- known as CHIP -- expired Sept. 30.

"It is hard to imagine someone not being in favor of insurance for children," said Dr. Heather Stein with the Community Health Centers of Burlington.

The state has money for the program into early next year. Congressional leaders are speaking favorably about the program, but have yet to fund it.

"There's bipartisan support for that in Washington and I'm still hopeful that that will come to be," Gov. Scott said.

After that, the state will stop receiving the higher matching rate – 90-percent federal and 10-percent state. Instead, it will drop to about 55- percent federal and 45-percent state, and that will cost all of us.

"The difference between what we currently receive from CHIP and what the state responsibility would be under the regular match is about $21 million," said Mary Kate Mohlman, Vermont’s director of health reform.

State officials say the program won't go away, but the state will need to find an additional $2 million in the 2018 fiscal year. It will need an additional $21 million dollars in the 2019 fiscal year. "That means that that's a budget issue, not loss of coverage," Mohlman said.

The governor says his administration will secure the funding without asking Vermonters to pay more. "I'm sure we can find revenues somehow, some way to make sure -- within our budget -- to do that. I'm not talking about raising taxes and fees," he said.

He did not say what he would be willing to cut to come up with the cash.
Stein says the funding is crucial for the 2,700 Dr. Dynasaur patients her office sees. "That's for dental visits, that's for medical visits, for immunization shots, and medications for their chronic conditions or infections," she said.

For now, the governor and lawmakers are hoping Congress will step up and provide the money. Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a fellow Republican, wrote to the Republican leaders in Congress last month asking for CHIP funding, as well funding for Community Health Centers and other initiatives, to be restored.