MT awaits reauthorization of $96m in fed funding for kids’ healt - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

MT awaits reauthorization of $96m in fed funding for kids’ health insurance

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MT Gov. Steve Bullock MT Gov. Steve Bullock

Montana will lose nearly $100 million a year in federal funding that covers health-care costs for 30,000 kids in low- and middle-income families, if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, state officials said this week.

Authorization for federal funding for the program, known by its acronym CHIP, expired last weekend.

But Montana’s only U.S. House member, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, said Tuesday he expects Congress to act quickly to reauthorize the program.

“Tens of thousands of Montana families rely on the Children’s Health Insurance Program for their children to have health coverage,” he said in a statement. “The program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support.”

In fact, a U.S. House committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that includes an extension of the CHIP program for another five years.

Gov. Steve Bullock told MTN News Tuesday that actual funding for Montana’s program will expire next January, and that there’s nothing in the state budget to replace it.

“Congress needs to do its part of the job, and the state pays its share,” he said. “I still remain hopeful that they will indeed reauthorize CHIP. It’s been a program that Democrats and Republicans have recognized what a big difference it makes.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also said Tuesday that Congress needs to act quickly to re-authorize CHIP, and chastised the GOP-controlled Senate for spending time last week on the failed bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, instead of passing the CHIP re-authorization.

“Washington dysfunction has reached new heights," he said in a statement. "Instead of working to ensure Montana kids can get the health coverage they need, Congress has wasted time on partisan health care bills that will raise rates and kick folks of their health plans."

State health officials said the state, which is already facing likely spending cuts to address a budget crisis, would have to come up with $96 million a year to make up for a loss of federal CHIP funds.

Members of Congress had introduced a bill late this summer to extend CHIP funding for another five years, but it failed to pass by a Saturday deadline.

CHIP money covers two subsets of children in Montana, with the feds paying about 98 percent of the costs.

The stand-alone CHIP program, created in 1997 for kids in families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, now applies to families earning up to 261 percent of the federal poverty level, or $64,000 for a family of four. About 23,000 kids are covered by this part of the program.

CHIP money also covers about 7,000 kids in Montana on Medicaid, in families earning up to 143 percent of the federal poverty level, or $35,000 a year for a family of four.

Montana created the Healthy Montana Kids Program in 2009, after 70 percent of Montana voters approved an expansion of CHIP. Healthy Montana Kids combined CHIP and Medicaid funds to expand government-funded health coverage for children and covers a total of 123,000 children, including the 23,000 covered only by CHIP.

About Mike Dennison

MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison joined MTN News in August 2015 after a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter covering Montana politics and state government. While some may believe that politics are boring, Mike firmly believes that's not the case if you tell the story with pizzazz and let people know why the story is important.
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