Colorado children's health insurance program gets funding extension through February

If extension passes, money might not be needed
Posted at 8:14 PM, Dec 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-21 22:37:49-05

DENVER – Colorado’s children health insurance program will be funded through at least February, as the state budget committee approved emergency funding that will temporarily stop cancellation notices from being sent out next week.

The Joint Budget Committee on Thursday approved Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request for $9.6 million to continue covering the Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+), which provides health insurance coverage for around 75,000 children and about 800 expectant mothers in Colorado who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

The program allows those covered to earn up to $5,330 per month in insurance coverage for a family of four.

Hickenlooper made the request earlier this week, calling it a “one-time only bandaid” while imploring Congress to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), whose funding Congress allowed to expire on Oct. 1.

Since then, states like Colorado have been using unspent money to fund their programs. CHP+ is funded by a mixture of federal and state money. Colorado’s money had been set to run out by Jan. 31 if the JBC didn’t approve more funds.

The money will come from the CHP+ Trust, and no general funds will be used. The governor’s office said that if Congress reauthorizes the funds before the end of January, the emergency JBC funding would not need to be used.

“We appreciate today’s bipartisan action by the JBC as it gives CHP+ families peace of mind through the holidays. Still, this funding is only temporary,” Hickenlooper said Thursday. “Congress needs to stop playing politics and renew funding for the program.”

Congress did pass a CHIP funding extension that will put money into the program through the end of March in the continuing spending bill both chambers passed on Thursday, which Republicans praised, but Democrats scoffed at in the face of the Republican tax cut bill. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said he was voting for the continuing resolution "to keep [Colorado's] CHIP Program & Community Health Centers funded."

But some federal analysts have said that the extension might only last through early February and not through March, according to The Associated Press.

Ahead of the vote, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., implored Senate leadership to include the KIDS Act five-year CHIP extension that both he and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., are cosponsoring in the final spending measure. Gardner also said he hoped that would be done, but said he would agree to the short-term extension through March.

“While the five year extension of CHIP funding that Senator Bennet and I continue to push in the Senate is by far the best path forward for Coloradans, absent movement on that legislation today we need to make sure funding is extended past Colorado’s deadline of January 31st,” Gardner said in a statement ahead of the vote. “I support the inclusion of language in the must-pass CR that allows CHIP funding to continue while a long-term bipartisan agreement is worked out.”

But Bennet was incensed at his Republican colleagues.

“The Republicans majority has spent the past month on a tax bill that is completely out of touch with the priorities of hardworking Americans,” he said in a statement. “Now, in the face of a looming shutdown, they claim that there is not enough time to help the…millions of children and families who stand to lose their health insurance. We should not accept this approach.”

The two senators have called for the passage of the KIDS Act since both cosponsored the measure in early October. And Hickenlooper has gathered a bipartisan panel of governors that have for months been pushing for CHIP to be extended.

They sent a letter to congressional leaders urging an extension by the end of the year, saying the insurance coverage “is one thing we can all agree on.”

Hickenlooper had said a week earlier that Colorado was starting to decide which women and children were at the “greatest risk” should funding expire, and the state started sending letters at the end of November warning people about the possibility of losing coverage.

The cancellation letters had been set to go out on Dec. 26, but will be held for now, the governor’s office said. Updates on the CHP+ program from the state can be found here.