Health and Science

Colorado warns residents kids' health program will shut soon if feds don't act

Key Points
  • Colarado has begun warning enrollees in its children's health program that the program will shut down next month if federal funding is not reauthorized soon.
  • Most states are on track to run out of funding for their kids' health programs by March because of congressional inaction.
  • Almost 9 million children have health benefits through the federal CHIP program.
Dr. Lora Melnicoe, Pediatric Primary Care with Denver Health examining Denesif Dixon 6, during her normal rounds as her younger brother Noah Woodard 4, watches. Dr. Melnicoe is also a large part of a program to help foster kids get proper medical and dental care, even as they switch to new families.
Joe Amon | The Denver Post | Getty Images

The state of Colorado began warning residents Monday that a health insurance program for children will cease operations next month if Congress fails to approve funding for it.

While Colorado's warning is dire, the state's Children's Health Plan Plus program actually has enough money in its coffers to continue operations through Jan. 31, even as Congress drags its feet on renewing funding.

Other states are not so lucky — and are even closer to running out of cash to operate their own programs that had received funding from the federal Children's Health Insurance Program.

Almost 9 million kids are currently covered by CHIP, along with about 370,000 pregnant women. CHIP, which had cost about $15 billion annually in federal funding, provides health benefits to low-income children who do not otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

Nearly a dozen states are preparing to join Colorado in alerting enrollees in their kids' health program that CHIP funding is on the verge of running out. reported Monday that Minnesota appears to be the first state to actually run out of CHIP funds. But the state will tap $35 million of its own money to keep its program going for several weeks.

While CHIP is popular across political lines, authorization for spending on the 20-year-old program expired at the end of September.

Since then, Congress has been unable to agree on a deal that would newly authorize $75 billion in CHIP spending for the next five years.

Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon are on track to drain their kids' health program by the end of 2017 or in early January, according to Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families.

And in addition to Colorado, five other states will run of CHIP money by January or February: Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

The majority of states are "projected to exhaust funding by March 2018," the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a letter on Nov. 9.

That letter also said that states would have to transition CHIP enrollees to Medicaid or notify customers that they should apply for Obamacare coverage.

On Monday, Colorado health officials sent out letters to enrollees urging them to begin researching their options for obtaining private health insurance in the event that Congress doesn't approve new funding.

More than 75,000 children in Colorado and almost 800 pregnant women are covered by the program, which is available to low- and middle-income families.

"It is critically important for families to start planning for potential changes in their health coverage if the federal government doesn't renew funding for the CHP+ program," said Gretchen Hammer, Colorado's Medicaid director.

"We remain cautiously optimistic Congress will renew federal funding, but we want our families enrolled in CHP+ to be aware that changes may be coming and not be caught off guard should the program come to an end."

Officials noted that a number of families that lose health insurance coverage for their kids would qualify for financial aid that would lower their cost of an Obamacare private insurance plan sold through the state's health exchange.

And if they do lose CHIP coverage, the affected children would be allowed to sign up for an Obamacare plan even outside of the open enrollment window, which ends this month.

"It's frustrating that our CHP+ families are facing this uncertainty, especially during the holiday's," said Tom Massey, interim executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.