Letters are going out this weekend telling families that 17,000 children and teenagers across the state will lose their health coverage on Jan. 31 unless Congress acts.

Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, ended on Sept. 30 because Congress didn’t authorize continuation of the program by the fall deadline.

Connecticut, like most other states, has kept the program, known as HUSKY B, going by using unspent money from the past two years. 

Connecticut expects to run out of money on Jan. 31 unless Congress votes to keep funding the program, and right now lawmakers are mired in a partisan fight that has escalated with the GOP’s approval of a new tax bill and differences over the federal budget. 

Connecticut also will stop accepting new applications for the program on Dec. 23 unless Congress acts, according to the state Department of Social Services.

“After 20 years of offering health coverage to uninsured children in Connecticut through the CHIP program, HUSKY B will end, as required by federal law,” the letter says. “As a result, HUSKY B will not pay for services your child receives after January 31, 2018. If Congress does vote to keep funding the CHIP program, services received and coverage in HUSKY B will continue. However, as of today, Congress has not acted to continue the funding, so we must plan to end the CHIP program on January 31, 2018.”

The letter also said that DSS officials will review HUSKY B recipients’ files to see if they qualify for other health care coverage, like HUSKY A or a private health plan through Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange. A second letter will be sent to notify families of the results of the department’s reviews.

The HUSKY B program covers children whose families earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, providing health care for children for families of four earning up to $79,458 a year. It is funded largely through federal dollars, with a smaller contribution – 12 percent — from the state.

Last month, the U.S. House approved a bill that would authorize funding for CHIP for five years. But the bill was opposed by most Democrats because it would authorize payment for CHIP by stripping money from an Affordable Care Act public health fund. That Public Health and Prevention Fund is used by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments for immunizations and screenings and to tackle a number of public health issues, ranging from diabetes to suicide.

Connecticut received nearly $9 million from the fund this year, which helped pay for a number of public health programs.

The House bill would require the wealthy to pay more in Medicare taxes to raise additional money for CHIP. And it would shorten the “grace period” in the Affordable Care Act during which consumers can pay late health insurance premiums from 90 to 30 days.

The Senate Finance Committee has approved a bill that would reauthorize CHIP funding, but does not have a way to pay for it.

Mackenzie is a former health reporter at CT Mirror. Prior to her time at CT Mirror, she covered health care, social services and immigration for the News-Times in Danbury and has more than a decade of reporting experience. She traveled to Uganda for the News-Times to report an award-winning five-part series about a Connecticut doctor's experience in Africa. A native of upstate New York, she started her journalism career at The Recorder in Greenfield, Mass., and worked at Newsday on Long Island for three years. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she wrote her master's thesis about illegal detentions in Haiti's women's prison.

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