Lawmakers still looking for agreement on long-term CHIP funding

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Health insurance for kids is in flux. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) needs reauthorization to continue to provide money to states. The program covers around 9 million children and pregnant women. Sept. 30 was the deadline to extend the program. Two and a half months later lawmakers are still trying to come to an agreement on how to fund reauthorization. Mark Wietecha, president and CEO of the Children’s Hospital Association says this can’t wait any longer.

Mark Wietecha from Children's Hospital Association says a five-year extension for CHIP is needed immediately.

“20 years from now, those kids will be in the workforce. They’ll be the ones leading parts of the economy and we oughta be investing in them now,” said Wietecha.

He says some states are preparing for money they get to insure children to run out completely. Since September, states have been running on leftover money.

“We would hope this is an easy one to do,” said Wietecha.

CHIP covers roughly 9 million children and pregnant women nationwide who don’t qualify for Medicaid and don’t have access to private or employer insurance. It has widespread bipartisan support.

“What better investment do we have? The cost of the program is relatively tiny. It’s a fraction of a percentage against the entire budget,” said Wietecha.

Wietecha estimates the cost at around $15 billion for a five-year extension of CHIP. He says while it is a popular program on Capitol Hill, there are details holding up the process. He says children’s health has become political, with both sides agreeing to fund the program but disagreeing how to do so.

“We can’t find a way to pay for it, they say, while they’re cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans,” said Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Bennet says Republicans are dragging their feet on finding money for CHIP, though many GOP Senators, like his counterpart Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), agree a five year extension is needed.

“Senator Bennet and I have been very vocal about the need to address this, and it appears there’s a path forward to creating long-term certainty for a program that roughly 90,000 Colorado children and pregnant mothers utilize,” said Gardner.

Jim Capretta from the American Enterprise Institute says both sides are delaying passage.

“Both parties are trying to figure out what combination of items can they put in a bill to get it passed and also take care of all these priorities,” said Capretta.

Democrats and Republicans say they’re confident they’ll reach an agreement in the coming weeks.