A 20-year federal health program that benefits children in low-income families could lose funding in December, officials report.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides health insurance for 74,000 low-income kids in Colorado and almost 1,000 pregnant women living below the poverty level.
In Montezuma County, 570 children are enrolled in the program; and in La Plata County, 971.
The program, known as CHIP, targets children ages 0 to 18 whose family makes too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to pay for private health insurance.
In Colorado, the plan is also known as Child Health Plan Plus, a public low-cost health insurance for children and pregnant women who earn too much to qualify for Health First Colorado – Colorado’s Medicaid Program.
“It is depended on by a lot of working families who don’t have health benefits at work, make too much for Medicaid, and who otherwise could not afford insurance for their kids,” said Josiah Forkner, social services director for Montezuma County. “We are being told that the state will continue to fund the program through December, and no new individuals can be added after Oct. 1.”
The federal program began in 1998 and is typically reauthorized every two years, with a deadline for renewal of Sept. 30. But this time around, CHIP funding has not shown up in the budget, and that has alarmed health advocates, said Jeff Bontrager of the Colorado Health Institute.
“The deadline is upon us. Congress has to decide this session whether to reauthorize funding nationwide,” he said. “The program has historically had bipartisan support.”
The Colorado Health Institute is preparing a brief that details the impact of losing the program, and plans to publish it this month.
If the program is lost, CHIP recipients would have to turn to options under the Affordable Care Act. They could face higher out-of-pocket costs that they may not be able to afford, Bontrager said.
“The other option is that they could be absorbed into the Medicaid program, but the state would have to expand eligibility requirements to include this population,” he said. “There are not a whole lot of insurance plans out there for kids, and CHIP has been the safety net for lower-income families.”
The short time line to reauthorize CHIP is a concern and also that Congress has a lot on its plate, including renegotiating the debt limit ceiling and tax reform.
Reauthorization has political overtones, said Joe Hanel of the Colorado Health Institute because lawmakers are “hinting that letting it lapse is a potential bargaining chip” to bring back a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Nationwide, 8.9 million children are enrolled with the CHIP program. Of those, about 2 million have chronic health conditions, including asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and developmental disorders such as autism, according to a study published in Health Affairs.