By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – Tens of thousands of Colorado families will begin getting notices just before Christmas that their children’s health insurance has been cancelled.
Funding for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program – or CHIP – is about to run out.
If Congress doesn’t reauthorize it soon, it will be up to state governments to pick up the tab. In Colorado, it would cost $159 million.
The program helps Colorado kids like Jack McDonnell, whose mom makes a little more than the cut-off for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance.
“I am up at night. Every day as the deadline gets closer and the notices go out that we’re losing this at the end of January, I’m panicked about what we’re going to do,” said Cynthia McDonnell.
Eleven-year old Jack is among 70,000 kids in Colorado who will lose health insurance.
He has asthma. “My kid can stop breathing, and he needs his treatments. It’s just us. It’s just the two of us right now and making ends meet is hard enough. It sounds so very cliche, but it is the difference between groceries and not groceries. It just is,” said McDonnell.
A bill to extend CHIP is stalled in the U.S. Senate.
Colorado’s Lt. Governor Donna Lynn says money will run out the end of January.
“I think the hope is continued pressure on Congress to reauthorize it will have the desired effect. If not, we have got to have a conversation with our legislators to figure out what alternatives we might have,” she said.
State Sen. Dominic Moreno, who sits on Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee, says the governor’s budget didn’t include contingency funding, and he doesn’t know where the money would come from.
“I’m hopeful still that Congress will act; that they will reauthorize the program. If they don’t, hopefully these parents know they have people at the state level looking out for their interests. Hopefully what we can do at the state level is try scrounge some of the money to keep this program going, but unfortunately we can’t do it for everyone,” said Moreno.
Colorado’s U.S. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet co-sponsor the Senate bill.
Gardner said, “Enough’s enough. Let’s get this done now. Let’s lift the cloud of worry.”
Cnythia McDonnell agrees, “I don’t know what they’re waiting for. If, of course, they’re going to authorize it, why are they stressing families out? Why am I up at night going ‘what’s going to happen in February? How do I pay my rent? How do I feed my kid?’ I did all things everyone wants us to do. I’m trying really hard, but we need this. We need this program. This is the right thing. These kids are right thing. Jack’s the right thing.”
The U.S. House passed a bill reauthorizing the program the beginning of the month.
The Senate bill has made it out of the finance committee, but Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t brought it to the floor.
The program has been widely bi-partisan since its inception 20 years ago. More than 400,000 kids in Colorado have benefited from it.