Funds bail out CHIP — for now

Gov. John Hickenlooper

A legislative panel approved Gov. John Hickenlooper's request for emergency funding to help the Children's Health Insurance Program stay afloat a little longer.

At the same time, Congress approved temporary funding for a program that was near to running out of cash next month.

For the past several weeks, Hickenlooper and several other governors from both parties have called on Congress to restore funding to the $14.4 billion program, which it let lapse in October.

The insurance program is used by about 74,000 children and 800 pregnant women in the state whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford their own insurance coverage.

Hickenlooper and others say congressional leaders have been using the program as part of their negotiations over the federal budget.

The governor said the additional state money was needed to give people more time to secure other coverage before the money runs out. In Colorado, that meant the end of January.

"Vulnerable children and pregnant women are being used as bargaining chips," Hickenlooper said. "This request is not a cure. It's a one-time only Band-Aid as we wait for Congress to do what's right and secure CHIP funding."

Hickenlooper's Department of Health Care Policy & Financing had asked the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee for an additional $9.2 million, enough to extend the program by about a month. Normally, the federal government would cover 88 percent of that cost.

In its request, the department said it needed more time to give current enrollees the heads-up that the program may not exist unless Congress acts.

The money it asked to use already exists in a special fund, but the state's existing spending plan did not give it the authority to use it without legislative approval.

Earlier this month, Hickenlooper and 11 other governors — Republican and Democrat — sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them to prioritize funding for the program, saying it shouldn't be used by some members of Congress to negotiate for unrelated things in the federal budget.

The spending authority was still needed despite Congress' approval of a measure temporarily funding the federal government through Jan. 19 because it's unknown how much of the $3 billion in CHIP money Colorado can get.

Currently, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., are co-sponsoring a measure to fund the CHIP program for the next five years.

Recommended for you