States urge Congress to extend CHIP

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) received a ringing endorsement from states that urged Congress to extend the program's funding at least through the end of 2019.

Thirty-nine governors and state health officials wrote to lawmakers to praise CHIP as the House and Senate begin debate over the program's budget, which expires on Sept. 30, 2015.

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"Renewal of federal CHIP funding is extraordinarily important to California's fiscal stability and the ability to continue to offer cost-effective, affordable coverage for children and pregnant women," wrote California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana S. Dooley in a letter typical of the state responses.

CHIP is operated by states, jointly funded by states and the federal government, and covers roughly 8 million children annually.

The Affordable Care Act reauthorized the program through 2019 but did not provide funding past 2015.

While Congress rarely beats fiscal deadlines by a substantial window, lawmakers appeared to agree Wednesday that CHIP funding should be allocated as soon as possible so that states can begin their budget planning early next year.

"Governors and state legislatures across the country will start to assemble their budgets as soon as January," said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) at a House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee hearing on the program.

"The committee is very aware that states need certainty sooner rather than later in their budgetary planning process."

State health officials underscored this idea in their letters to Congress. The letter were released by the Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

"In terms of timeframes, we would prefer action in the next month or two as we are now in the process of formulating our fiscal year 2016 budget," wrote Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health.

"The budget impact of CHIP ending, or making changes in the state's matching rate, would shift significant costs back to Michigan."