Billions of dollars at stake for CA as CHIP deadline looms

Two million children in California are covered by CHIP.
Two million children in California are covered by CHIP.
/Courtesy of Eric Ball

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Congress has until the end of the month to renew funding for a program that provides health insurance for millions of lower-income children. If Washington doesn't continue federal support, California would have to come up with as much as $2.7 billion a year in additional funds to keep the program going.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, is for kids whose parents are lower-income but make too much to qualify for Medi-Cal -- up to 266 percent of the federal poverty level.

Last year, two million California children were in the program. Federal funding covers about 90 percent of the nearly $3 billion annual price tag.

"It’s very possible that Congress will decide to renew funding for the CHIP program, but at a lower level than is currently being funded," said Scott Graves, director of research at the California Budget and Policy Center.

California is required by law to keep the program going. 

"At the end of the day, the state’s going to have to make some really tough decisions if the federal government does not continue its investment in children’s health care," says Michael Odeh, director of health policy at the advocacy group Children Now.

"They could try to roll back eligibility for other groups. They could try to make it harder for families to enroll. They could roll back benefits," he speculates.

If Congress cuts off federal support, experts say California has enough money set aside to keep the program going for a few months – but then it will have to make those "tough decisions."

Federal funding for CHIP expires September 30.