MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Millions of families in the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, are breathing a sigh of relief. That program was reauthorized yesterday, part of a deal ending the government shutdown. The program had been in limbo ever since Congress let funding expire in September. From member station WAMU, Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on how that funding gap affected the program.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Linda Nablo, who oversees the CHIP program in Virginia, had two letters ready to send out to the families of 68,000 kids insured through the program. One said they didn't need to worry anymore; federal funding had finally come through.
LINDA NABLO: We also of course had the other letter ready to go that it was shutting down.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: In the next 48 hours, it's that first stand-down, don't-worry letter that they'll be sending out. Nablo is now taking stock of the costs of the funding gap. Staff have been preparing to end the program - retooling enrollment systems, changing contracts.
NABLO: Those aren't huge dollar amounts. I think the cost more is in the worry from parents.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: CHIP covers children in low-income families. Many can't afford private insurance, and their children might have had to go uninsured. Every state's calculus was different for how long they could run on money left over after funding expired.
JOAN ALKER: One state, Connecticut, did freeze enrollment between the week of Christmas and New Year's.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Joan Alker from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. She's happy with the CHIP deal Congress passed, though she points out is the same one they agreed on in September, so she's not sure why it took a shutdown to finally get it through. She's also puzzled as to why it was only a six-year extension when the Congressional Budget Office estimated extending CHIP for 10 years would save more money.
ALKER: The six-year is a small saver. It saves just under a billion dollars. They could come back and extend CHIP for four more years and grab those savings.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: An extra $5 billion in savings. Alker does worry that the uncertainty may have caused children to drop out of the program, increasing the uninsured rate among children. If that holds true nationally, it hasn't been the case in Virginia where CHIP enrollment actually went up this past fall. For NPR News, I'm Selena Simmons-Duffin in Washington.
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