Hickenlooper and bipartisan panel of governors call for immediate CHIP reauthorization

DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper continued to press Congress to restore the Children’s Health Insurance Program before states’ funding dries up, sending a letter Tuesday to congressional leaders signed by him and 11 other governors from both parties.

“Since its creation, CHIP has enjoyed strong bipartisan support. We encourage you to work across the aisle to find common ground that will allow this important program to continue and give the families who rely on CHIP the peace of mind of knowing that their children will be able to get the health care they need in the new year,” the letter said, which was written by Hickenlooper and Republican Gov. John Kasich, among 10 others.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Kasich have worked together all year on health care initiatives, like opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and now, pushing for Congress to extend CHIP.

Including Hickenlooper and Kasich, the letter to majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate was signed by six Democratic governors, five Republican governors and one independent.

In the letter, the governors ask leadership to reauthorize CHIP “as quickly as possible,” saying they believe covering health care for children and women “is one thing we can all agree on.”

The governors note that their states, including Colorado, have already been working to formulate a plan if Congress doesn’t restore the funds.

“But we will need federal support to continue the program,” they wrote. “Resources are nearly exhausted and some state already have begun to inform families that their children’s coverage may end on January 31.”

Colorado is one of those states. It began sending letters to families of the approximately 75,000 children and 800 expectant mothers at the end of November warning them they might need to start looking for private insurers in the event Congress doesn’t fund CHIP, which is known as Children’s Health Plan Plus (CHP+) in the state.

The state warned in early October that the funding match would dry up by Jan. 31 if Congress doesn’t act.

Several Coloradans told Denver7 Tuesday about the drastic effect the end of CHP+ could have on them if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize the CHIP funding.

“The children should not have to suffer simply because Congress can’t get itself straight,” said Andrew Montoya, a father of three young girls.

Hickenlooper said last week that the state is preparing to try and use what funds it does have to help the most at-risk people covered by CHP+.

“The list isn’t a good list….It’s hard to imagine which are the most-at-risk, in terms of kids,” he said. “That’s a terrible, terrible situation to be in and a terrible process to endure.”

“We’re just beginning to look at the list and find out—where is the break point of what we’d have to come up with,” Hickenlooper also said during the press call. “It’s certainly in the tens of millions of dollars per month, and until we have that information and look at it, it’s hard to predict which pregnancy is going to be most in need of medical attention.”

“Often times, things look like they’re going great, and things take a turn for the worst,” Hickenlooper continued. “It’s like making impossible decisions to cut people off the list of who's eligible for CHIP, like the movie ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ where you have to pick who lives or who dies.”

On the heels of the letter from Hickenlooper and the bipartisan panel of governors, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., implored Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring CHIP to the Senate floor for a vote.

“We must act now,” Bennet said Tuesday. “Why are Republicans treading their feet on 9 million kids’ health insurance? Surely this is a bipartisan issue.”

Republicans in the House did pass a CHIP funding extension in early November, but it received little support from Democrats. Only 15 supported the measure’s passage to the Senate, and most who opposed that version of the bill said the funding mechanism took too much from other necessary programs.

Some people protested outside of Rep. Mike Coffman’s office Tuesday, saying Republicans were ignoring CHIP, but Coffman in a statement said he and the House had done their jobs.

“Unfortunately, the Senate has not yet reauthorized this essential program, that serves so many children both in Colorado and nationwide, as of today,” Coffman’s statement said. “I remain optimistic that the Senate will reauthorize CHIP soon. I will continue to encourage Senators to work in a bipartisan manner to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”

Bennet and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., cosponsored a CHIP reauthorization measure earlier this year, and Gardner said last week that CHIP needed to be “reauthorized immediately” despite getting a letter from Democratic lawmakers in Colorado’s General Assembly urging him to act faster.

“If it’s not voted on in standalone legislation I’m urging my colleagues to include it in the spending measure that Congress will vote on at the end of the month,” Gardner told Denver7. “Senator Bennet and I have been very vocal about the need to address this. No mother in Colorado should have to worry about her child not having the care they need.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be in charge of deciding which measures are voted on before the end of the year. CHIP reauthorization has been pushed by many, as has a DACA fix that would restore rights to young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

The government also has to finalize a new spending bill before Dec. 22 to keep the government open. There have been discussions that CHIP reauthorization, and possibly a DACA extension, could be included in the measure.

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