Doctor: Senate funding delay risks Flint lead recovery

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The U.S. Senate’s delay in funding a federal program that provides health insurance for low-income children could jeopardize Flint’s efforts to help children recover from lead poisoning, one of Michigan’s top children’s health advocates said Wednesday.

Funding for the $14 billion Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) ran out on Sept. 30. And while the U.S. House of Representatives in early November approved a five-year extension of the program, a proposed extension has stalled in the Senate.

“It’s embarrassing and tells our kids that Congress values tax cuts for the wealthy over children’s actual lives,” Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center Pediatrician, said Wednesday. “This should be our priority.”

In Michigan, CHIP funding is projected to last through April or May, said Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Program funds are being used to provide health insurance for young people under age 21 who drank lead-contaminated water from Flint since April 2014, as well as any pregnant women who were served the water and the children born to them.

Michigan also uses CHIP funding for other local programs, including coverage for certain children on Medicaid and mothers who are undocumented immigrants, according to the state health department.

Hanna-Attisha, who helped uncover lead poisoning in Flint children and is leading efforts to help them recover, said CHIP funding has “a huge Flint impact by supporting our statewide Lead Safe Home program, which seeks to proactively eliminate children’s exposure to lead, and (provides) $7 million in our pipe replacement program.”

Some states have said they may to freeze or reduce their programs when CHIP funds run out.

Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, on Wednesday said the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee is working on a resolution to send to Congress about the issue, but wouldn’t provide details.

The Hill, a Washington-based political website, reported Monday that stop-gap legislation to keep the government operating after Friday could provide temporary CHIP relief for states. If Congress doesn’t act by Friday forcing a government shutdown, the previous short-term funding expension would keep the program funded through Dec. 22.

The website said the short-term funding legislation may include a provision that would make it easier for states to tap unused money from the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services to keep their CHIP programs afloat, by lifting restrictions on how much they can receive through Dec. 31.