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State

Children's insurance in jeopardy, but Illinois is OK – for now

Federal funds in limbo, but state has enough money to last through September

Children from low-income families in many states could lose health insurance coverage if Congress doesn’t act soon – but Illinois families need not panic just yet.

Illinois has enough funding left for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to last through September, according to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

In Illinois, about 255,000 kids receive coverage through the state- and federally funded program, which is meant to help children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still can’t afford private insurance.

About half of those 255,000 children would still likely be covered by Medicaid even if the state ran out of funding for the children’s insurance program, according to the state health care department. The other half could be in jeopardy of losing coverage in late 2018 if Congress still hasn’t reauthorized it by then.

About 88 percent of the funding for the program in Illinois comes from the federal government – about $218 million in fiscal year 2017, according to the department.

Despite broad bipartisan support, Congress failed to renew funding for the program before it expired in late September. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who helped create the program, pledged last week from the Senate floor that its funding will be renewed, but he said, “The reason CHIP is having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore.”

On Saturday, the Senate approved a bill expected to cut taxes for many Americans and add to the federal deficit.

Advocates of the program say its reauthorization has been sidetracked amid heated debate over the Republican tax bill and the Affordable Care Act.

“I think they’re using it as a bargaining chip, and really, children’s health should not be on the table as any kind of political issue,” said Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer for Advocate Children’s Hospital, which has campuses in Oak Lawn and Park Ridge.

More than half of the hospital’s patients receive coverage through the program or through Medicaid.

Coverage through the program is critical to making sure all Illinois children get basic medical services, such as primary care and vaccinations, said Mike Farrell, president of Advocate Children’s Hospital.

Without it, many children in Illinois might have to go back to relying on emergency rooms for care, said Dr. Matthew Davis, division head of general pediatrics and primary care at Lurie Children’s Hospital. This year, about 2,900 of Lurie’s patients had coverage through the program.

As of November, about three-fourths of states said they anticipated running out of funding by March, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The federal government has given additional funding to some states to help them keep the program going for now, but those funds are limited.

Though advocates of the program say they’re relieved that Illinois won’t run out of cash until September, they say state residents should still be concerned.

“For children in Illinois, it’s only reassuring in the short term that our CHIP support can continue into 2018,” Davis said. “It would be much better to extend the CHIP program for five more years and assure families in Illinois and across the country that their children’s coverage can continue.”

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

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©2017 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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