Alabama calls off freeze to children's health insurance

Alabama calls off freeze to children's health insurance
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Alabama will no longer freeze enrollment for children's health insurance on Jan. 1, thanks to new temporary funding passed by Congress, the state said Wednesday. 

The stopgap spending bill that lawmakers passed last week gives the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) $2.85 billion in temporary funding. The move was intended to tide over states that were running low on funding due to Congress's failure to pass a long-term funding measure for the program. 

Alabama had earlier announced that it would no longer accept new enrollees as of Jan. 1, because of the lack of funding from Congress. While the state is calling off that step, it warned that lawmakers still need to take action soon.

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"With the continuing resolution passed by Congress on December 21, 2017, ALL Kids will not freeze enrollment on January 1, 2018 nor terminate coverage on February 1, 2018, so we will not be sending out notices to enrollees this week," Cathy Caldwell, the director of Alabama's Bureau of Children's Health Insurance, wrote in an email. 

She said she did not yet know for certain how long the temporary funding will keep services going, but she estimated an "additional 3-4 weeks."

"We need Congress to pass full, long term funding for CHIP early in January," she wrote. 

Congress is expected to pass a full long-term CHIP funding bill in January, perhaps as part of a larger funding measure that must pass before Jan. 19 to avert a government shutdown. 

CHIP has bipartisan support, but funding for the program has been held up by a partisan dispute over how to pay for the cost.

Before Congress passed the temporary funding last week, a handful of other states had sent warning notices to families telling them the program would soon end without more funds.