As CHIP Funding Runs Low, States Warn Insurance Could Lapse : Shots - Health News Funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program expired in September. Millions of children could lose coverage, unless Congress acts soon to restore the money to keep the program running.
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States Sound Warning That Kids' Health Insurance Is At Risk

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States Sound Warning That Kids' Health Insurance Is At Risk

States Sound Warning That Kids' Health Insurance Is At Risk

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Colorado this week mailed out notices to families with a warning. They said children enrolled in CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, were in danger of losing their health coverage. Other states are expected to do the same soon.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

CHIP covers about 9 million children in the country, most of them in working-class families. Congress has let funding for CHIP expire even though both Democrats and Republicans say they support the program. Now states are running out of money and trying to figure out what to do.

SIEGEL: In a moment we'll hear from Texas, where Hurricane Harvey has affected CHIP funding. First, though, Selena Simmons-Duffin from member station WAMU reports on the situation in Virginia.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: When I spoke to Linda Nablo of Virginia's Department of Medical Assistance Services, she was drafting a letter for parents of the 66,000 Virginia kids enrolled in CHIP. The letter's not quite ready.

LINDA NABLO: I'm going to take one more stab at it (laughter). We've never had to do this before. So, you know, how do you write the very best letter saying your child might lose coverage, but it's not certain yet, but in the meantime these are some things you need to think about?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Like maybe you can enroll in Medicaid or the state health exchange or add your child to an employer health plan. If Congress reauthorizes funding Virginia is in the clear, but the state can't bank on that hope. They need to prepare to shut down on January 31 if that funding doesn't come.

JOAN ALKER: States are really in a bind here. It's very tough to know what to do.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Joan Alker runs the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

ALKER: They need to give families 30 days' notice, but they're hearing rumors that Congress may get this done in the next couple of weeks and they don't want to scare families.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Colorado is the first to send out notice, but Alker says others are close behind.

ALKER: There are a handful of states that are starting to run out in December - Oregon, Minnesota, D.C. is likely running out.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The exact deadline for each state is tricky because the amount of money they have depends on how fast they spend it and how much stopgap money the federal government gives them. Some states are getting creative. Oregon just announced they'll spend state money.

ALKER: And they're assuming that Congress will pass it and they'll get reimbursed retroactively. That's what they're hoping.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The latest rumor is that Congress will act on CHIP by December 8. For NPR News, I'm Selena Simmons-Duffin in Washington.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: And I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin, Texas. Texas is set to run out of CHIP money a lot sooner than was expected just a few months ago. And there's a big reason for that - Hurricane Harvey.

LAURA GUERRA-CARDUS: Natural disasters are often a way that individuals that have never had to rely on programs like Medicaid and CHIP need them for the first time.

LOPEZ: That's Laura Guerra-Cardus. She works for the Children's Defense Fund in Austin. Guerra-Cardus says after Harvey a lot of new families enrolled in CHIP, and there was also a higher demand for services.

GUERRA-CARDUS: When there is such a traumatic event health care needs also rise. There's been a lot of post-traumatic stress in children.

LOPEZ: And to help those families out Texas officials also waived fees they usually have to pay to join CHIP, so lately there's been less money coming in and more money going out. Like Virginia, without reauthorization, Texas would have to shut CHIP down by the end of January. And for Amy Ellis in Alpine, Texas, that's something she's dreading.

AMY ELLIS: Losing a lot of sleep, still losing a lot of sleep.

LOPEZ: Ellis has an 8-year-old daughter who has been on CHIP since she was born, and she has asthma and allergies. Ellis says health insurance is really important because her family doesn't make a lot of money.

ELLIS: The allergy serum alone is a thousand dollars a pop.

LOPEZ: Ellis lives in a very rural part of the state, and she says she doesn't have a lot of options. She says she can enroll her daughter in the insurance plan she and her husband have through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, but that would be expensive.

ELLIS: From what I'm looking at it would cost $300 to $400 month for us to add her to our plan, which would be a huge chunk of our income. That's our grocery money.

LOPEZ: A lot of families in Texas could find themselves in this situation if Congress doesn't act soon, says Laura Guerra-Cardus from the Children's Defense Fund.

GUERRA-CARDUS: Kids with chronic or special health care needs - this is going to turn their lives absolutely upside down.

LOPEZ: Roughly 450,000 children are on CHIP in Texas. Officials must give families 30 days' notice if the program will end. That means that families in Texas could get letters right around Christmas that say their children are losing their health insurance. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez.

SIEGEL: And that story is part of a reporting partnership of NPR and Kaiser Health News.

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