Federal insurance program delay could impact Kansas children

? State officials are considering options if Congress doesn’t reauthorize a program that helps provide health insurance for nearly 80,000 Kansas children in low- and middle-income, working families.

Congress missed a late September deadline to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. On Wednesday, Republicans pushed a bill extending financing for the program through a House committee, but partisan conflict over how to pay for it could delay approval.

Gerald Kratochvil, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said if the program isn’t renewed, funds in Kansas aren’t expected to run out until March 2018, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. About 37,000 Kansas children are enrolled in CHIP, with an additional 42,000 in a hybrid CHIP-Medicaid program, he said.

Topeka pediatrician Dennis Cooley said CHIP provides quality care for children and its uncertain future is worrying pediatricians and family doctors, as well as the children’s parents. He’s also concerned the uncertainty could lead parents to cancel preventative care appointments.

“I’m so disappointed that other things took priority, and I don’t think they should over kids,” said Cooley, who noted the funds would dry up more quickly if Kansas is hit by an epidemic or natural disaster.

Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said discontinuing CHIP would jeopardize children’s health and create more pressure on the state’s struggling budget.

“Bottom line — Kansas families will be forced to make an impossible choice: pay for fewer benefits at a cost they can’t afford or go without coverage for their children,” she said. “The research is clear that when kids are covered, they are typically healthier, and when they’re healthier, they perform better in school. And kids who do well in school are more likely to grow up to be healthier adults.”