CT reviewing lifeline Congress throws children’s health program

Washington – Before leaving for holiday break, Congress approved a stopgap spending bill that provides $2.85 billion to states like Connecticut that were running out of money for a health program that covers 17,000 children in the state.

But the short-term extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, or HUSKY B in Connecticut, does not provide the certainty some states have been seeking.

The state government sent letters out this week warning parents coverage of their children would end on Jan. 31 unless Congress acted.

Now Congress has acted. The “continuing resolution” that will fund the federal government until Jan. 19, preventing a government shutdown this weekend, provides short-term funding through March, if not the five-year authorization advocates of the Children’s Health Insurance, or CHIP, program had sought.

The bill also directs the secretary of health and human services to distribute leftover CHIP funds to states with the most urgent financial problems so they do not have to shut down the program.

Connecticut officials said Friday they were unsure what the lifeline would mean for the state.

“Fiscal review will determine exactly what this means for Connecticut,” said Connecticut Department of Social Services spokesman David Dearborn. “Right now, we are extended out through January 31, so there is not imminent closure, as some states may be facing. The overall funding problem isn’t necessarily resolved.”

Four states besides Connecticut have planned to terminate or phase out CHIP coverage by Jan. 31.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, Connecticut was the first to stop new enrollment in the program.

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

Currently, higher-income families pay a small premium each month, a maximum of $30 for one child and $50 for two or more children. A family of four that makes less than $62,485 is not required to make these payments.

When Congress returns from its holiday break in early January, congressional Republicans and Democrats will face the same problems they faced before the holidays: how to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year and what to do about CHIP and federal funding for community health centers – which also were provided short-term funding in the continuing resolution – and what to do about more than a million undocumented youth known as “dreamers” who are facing deportation next year.

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