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Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (NV-03) at her Henderson office on Wednesday July 5, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada’s congressional Democrats today split over a vote to reauthorize federal funding for a widely-supported program that provides health insurance to about 27,000 low-income Nevada children after Republicans slipped additional provisions into the bill that opponents have said will undermine Obamacare and health insurance for seniors.

Democrats Ruben Kihuen and Dina Titus joined 172 other representatives, including three Republicans, in opposing the bill to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years. The two Nevada Democrats criticized House Republicans for including provisions cutting funding from an Affordable Care Act grant-making fund, limiting the grace period for missed Obamacare plan payments and charging higher Medicare premiums to high-income seniors into the CHIP reauthorization bill.

Titus, who introduced the bill to create the CHIP program in Nevada when she was a state senator, said she supports “fully funding the program without having to pit children against their families.” Kihuen called the legislation “yet another reckless attempt” by Republicans to “undermine” the federal Medicare program and “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act.

“Instead of allowing a vote on a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Community Health Centers funding today, they forced a vote on a bill that will die in the Senate and only delay that funding even further,” Kihuen said.

Fellow Democrat Jacky Rosen, who is running to challenge Republican Sen. Dean Heller for his seat in 2018, voted for the legislation, as did 14 other Democrats including Arizona Rep. Krysten Sinema, who is also running for U.S. Senate in her state. Rosen said in a statement Friday that she recognizes the “serious flaws” in the bill but “could not in good conscience” vote against renewing the program.

“I was elected to solve problems, and ultimately I decided to vote for this bill so that we can keep our children healthy and protect the most vulnerable members of our communities,” Rosen said. “Republicans in Congress must stop playing political games with health care, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to right this wrong and fix this legislation.”

Republican Mark Amodei voted with nearly all of his fellow House Republicans to support the legislation.

CHIP provides low-cost health insurance to roughly 9 million children nationwide under the age of 19 whose families exceed the income limits for Medicaid but still need help securing insurance. There were 27,124 children enrolled in Nevada’s CHIP program, known as Nevada Check Up, as of May 2017, and nearly 69,000 Nevada children have been enrolled in the program at some point over the last year.

The legislation also extends funding for federally qualified health centers, nonprofit health centers and clinics serving medically underserved areas and populations that provide services to patients regardless of their ability to pay, for two years. Funding for both programs lapsed on Sept. 30.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, urged Congress to “act swiftly” to fund the program, calling it “essential” to the state’s efforts to ensure all Nevadans have access to health insurance. The state’s budget counts on $63 million in CHIP funding for the current fiscal year.

The Senate Finance Committee passed its own version of a CHIP funding bill last month, which didn’t include funding for the federally qualified health centers or funding offsets included in the House bill.

Lawmakers also voted Thursday to abolish the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is responsible for determining Medicare cuts if spending rises above a certain level. Rosen and Kihuen supported the legislation while Titus opposed it.

Proponents of the board say it is necessary to curtail unnecessary spending and ensure the program has enough money to spend on future enrollees, while Democrats have expressed concern that Republicans are attempting to get rid of the panel now as part of a broader effort to undermine Obamacare.

Updated 11-3-17 at 1:46 p.m. to correct the timeframe over which 69,000 Nevada children have been enrolled in CHIP.

 

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