Colorado on Thursday secured funding to extend public health insurance for low-income children through February thanks to an emergency budget appropriation.
At the same time, Congress failed to allocate long-term funding for about 9 million low-income children, including 75,000 in Colorado, who are enrolled in health insurance programs designed for families who make too much for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance.
The state’s Joint Budget Committee approved about $9.6 million to extend Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) program through February.
The extension will benefit about 950 La Plata County residents and 570 Montezuma County residents enrolled in the program.
“It gives those families some peace of mind during the holidays,” said Marc Williams, spokesman for Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
If the funding was not allocated, cancellation notices would have been sent next week because funding is expected to run out Jan. 31. The state is required to give families 10 days notice, but the state wanted to give families more time to prepare, Williams said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper requested the funding from the Joint Budget Committee to provide Congress additional time to authorize federal funding for programs in states across the nation.
The committee voted unanimously to use funds from the Children’s Basic Health Plan Trust to pay for the extension of the program. It did not dip into the state’s general fund, according to a news release.
The committee can approve funding even when the Legislature is not in session in unusual circumstances.
Congress approved $2.9 billion in short-term funding Thursday for the children’s health programs nationwide, but Colorado likely won’t see any of that money because there are 12 states that would receive funding first, Williams said.
If Congress acts to reauthorize long-term federal funding in January, the emergency funding will not be needed.
However, if Congress fails to act in the next two months, it is unlikely the state could afford to extend emergency funding for the program a second time, Williams said.
Federal funding covers about 88 percent of the funding for CHP+, which costs about $16.2 million per month to run, Williams said.
“Congress needs to stop playing politics and renew funding for the program,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.
Democrats and Republicans agree that finances for the Children’s Health Insurance Program should be renewed for five years, but they’ve clashed over how to pay for it. And while few think Congress would blunder into letting the money completely lapse – which no lawmaker would care to defend with elections approaching – an effort to provide long-term money collapsed as leaders punted a bunch of unresolved issues until early next year.
“What GOP is obsessed with: Ramming through tax cuts for the rich and powerful,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., referring to the $1.5 trillion tax bill Congress approved this week. “What GOP completely ignores: Extending #CHIP – health care for our children.”
“We would love to pass it. They won’t let us,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview, asserting that Democrats had blocked a multi-year extension.
As the issue slipped into next year, the two top senators on the issue – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and top committee Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon – issued a statement promising to seek a five-year extension soon.
“We will be vigilant to ensure this program isn’t subject to repeated short-term fixes and constantly looming deadlines – families across the nation deserve better,” they said.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Associated Press contributed to this report.