Lawmakers mull CHIP extension with deadline looming

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The future of a federal program that provides children health insurance is currently in limbo. The Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) currently covers millions of American children. But the money is running out, and Congress has yet to iron out the details to continue the program.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is sponsoring a bill that would extend CHIP for five years.

“Kids could actually lose coverage if the feds do not extend the program,” said Jim Kaufman, vice president of public policy at the Children’s Hospital Association.

CHIP currently covers millions of young Americans, whose families make too much for Medicaid, but can’t use private or employer insurance. The Senate is crafting legislation to extend funding for the program, possibly up to five years.

“Governors and state legislatures strongly support this because it allows them to invest in kids that produce healthier adults,” said Kaufman.

States and the federal government share the program’s cost. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says 200,000 kids in his state use the program. He says it is something he expects Congress will continue to support.

“It matters for preventive care, it matters for keeping those kids healthy, it matters so they don’t miss those school days, it matters so they’re not sent to school when they’re sick and infecting other children. So it’s something this Congress needs to do,” said Brown.

Brown introduced a bipartisan proposal to extend the program, but some say changes are needed before it passes. One of the complaints is that states are not sharing enough of the payment burden.

“If the states want to cover families at a higher level, at close to $100,000 a year, as is the case in the state of New York, well then New York should pick up that tab,” said Bob Moffit, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Moffit says CHIP was meant for lower income families. But, he says, in some states, a family can make up to 300 percent the poverty limit and still benefit from the program.

“If we’re going to spend these monies, we should spend these monies on those children and those families who are most vulnerable,” said Moffit.

Lawmakers have until Sept. 30 to pass a CHIP extension.