By Shaun Boyd
(CBS) – A bill to make sure thousands of Colorado kids have health insurance has passed its first hurdle.
The Senate Finance Committee passed a bill co-sponsored by Colorado’s U.S. senators — Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. Cory Gardner — to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
The program has been widely bipartisan since its inception 20 years ago. But Congress got sidetracked by Republicans attempt to dismantle The Affordable Care Act and allowed the program to expire, putting health care for more than 75,000 Colorado kids like Scarlett Montoya in jeopardy. Her parents’ income is just above the Medicaid threshold. Her dad, Andrew Montoya, admits he doesn’t know how he’ll afford private insurance for Scarlett and her two sisters if Congress doesn’t act.
“I know it would easily be hundreds of dollars extra a month and that would decimate our family budget,” he said.
The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing says it has funding to keep the program running for about another four months.
“I would certainly like to be confident,” said Montoya, “but I tell you this deadline has been coming for years. It didn’t sneak up on anyone. Congress has instead chosen to play politics.”
Colorado’s senators are urging their colleagues to act quickly. Their bill would extend the program another five years.
“This should have been reauthorized prior to Sept. 30. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. That’s why I along with a bipartisan group of senators introduced the CHIP bill to make sure it’s reauthorized before funding runs out in February in Colorado,” Gardner said.
If Congress doesn’t pass the bill, thousands of Colorado families like the Montoyas will begin receiving cancellation notices just before Christmas.
“Late December is about the worst time of year for families to be getting hit with thousands of dollars in medical bills and medical expenses they weren’t anticipating simply due to Congressional inaction,” said Montoya.
The bill extending the program still needs to pass the full Senate before moving to the House. The state is urging families not to panic, but also encouraging them to begin looking at insurance options through the health exchange, just in case.
Over the last 10 years, more than 400,000 kids have been covered by CHIP at one point in their life.