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Children's Health Insurance Program In Jeopardy In Colorado


Come February, 75,000 families in Colorado might lose health insurance for their children. That insurance comes through the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. And that program pays for health care for children, mostly from working-class families whose parents make too much to receive Medicaid. The program is funded by Congress, but Congress has let that funding expire. States have been using extra funds to try to get by. Now half a dozen states are close to running out of those federal funds, including Colorado.

Gretchen Hammer directs Medicaid in Colorado. She oversees CHIP there. Ms. Hammer, thanks very much for being with us.

GRETCHEN HAMMER: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Please help us understand how CHIP funding normally works.

HAMMER: So the federal government pays a portion of the costs of the CHIP program, and states pay the other portion. Right now the federal government pays 88 percent of the costs of the CHIP program in the state of Colorado. And the state, through a variety of different funds, pays for the other 12 percent.

SIMON: And that money's about to expire?

HAMMER: Yes. The federal financing for the CHIP program expired on September 30. States have the authority to continue to spend federal dollars that they had not spent. And so we anticipate that we're able to continue to spend those currently allocated dollars until January 31. But after that, there will be no additional federal money for us to continue to operate the program.

SIMON: Unless Congress changes that.

HAMMER: That is correct. Congress can act at any time to reauthorize funding for the program at a national level.

SIMON: What would be the effect of losing that funding be in your state?

HAMMER: So at this point in time, we're anticipating that we would need to close the program. With such a significant federal investment, it is really difficult for states to find the needed resources to continue the program without any federal financing. So we have notified families and have been preparing the different parts of the program to cease operations on January 31.

SIMON: When you use phrases like close the program and cease operations, I mean, does that mean children will no longer be able to get health care?

HAMMER: Well, what we're hoping is that families, with enough notice, will be able to look at other options for their children. Some children may be able to get onto their parents' employer-sponsored coverage. There is also the chance to shop on the state-based marketplace. And some may be able to receive tax subsidies to help support the affordability.

SIMON: But it sounds like a lot of other people would have no alternative.

HAMMER: There is a chance that families may not be able to find something that is affordable.

SIMON: And what happens to the health care system in Colorado if February comes, and there are - I don't know - thousands of Coloradans who have to come to the hospital, but their care won't be funded?

HAMMER: It is certainly a concern, and it would be the same thing that happens, unfortunately, today when an uninsured child or uninsured pregnant women has to access services. The hospital and the care provider work with that family. And to the extent that they need to, they become financially responsible for the services that they've received.

SIMON: Do you hope Congress re-ups the CHIP program?

HAMMER: We certainly believe that the CHIP program has been very successful. It provides peace of mind and coverage for families, for their children and certainly for pregnant women. The CHIP program in Colorado, and I think nationally, has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. It's been proven to be very effective. And we're hopeful that Congress will act.

SIMON: Gretchen Hammer directs Medicaid and CHIP in Colorado. Thanks so much for being with us.

HAMMER: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RRAREBEAR'S "ESSENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.