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Bill to end shutdown means relief for millions of parents

Parents of the almost 9 million children who receive coverage under the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, can breathe easier. After months of delay, the Senate voted to reauthorize the program for six years as part of a short-term spending bill that is set to end the weekend-long government shutdown.

Until recently, CHIP was an extremely popular bipartisan program that covers children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicare, but not enough to afford private insurance for their children. Congress failed to reauthorize funding for the program, which was launched in 1997, after it officially expired on Sept. 30 last year. A key problem: Disagreements last year in the House about how to pay for the program. Republicans wanted cuts in Obamacare and Medicare, while Democrats were opposed.

MORE: State not warning parents about faltering children’s health program

In the interim, Washington provided various short-term CHIP funding, and the government set up a redistribution mechanism for surplus funds in some states to be used in other states running low on money for the program. Even with these efforts, the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute projected that 24 states would run out of CHIP funding by March.

“In the end, CHIP became a bargaining chip,” said Edwin Park, vice president of health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Unfortunately, CHIP was held hostage in the debate over [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and other broader issues.”

Park worries that with funding for only six years, the CHIP program will go through this all over again. “CHIP has always been a bipartisan program with widespread support,” he said. “Now that it has become a partisan tool, we wonder about the long-term prospects for the program. Next time it comes up for renewal, it may not just be a matter of, ‘Let’s get this done because everyone supports it.'”

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As Congress sought an end to the impasse, parents fretted over how they would pay for health care for their kids, many with special needs. And states caught in the political crossfire tried hard to balance the administration of dwindling CHIP funds and the obligation to notify CHIP parents that funding may soon end.

By the time the Senate voted on the continuing resolution, a handful of states had already sent letters to families warning of the funding shortfall. Anyone who received one of these letters still has coverage for their child or may apply for CHIP coverage.

Author: CBS MONEYWATCH
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