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Children In Low-Income Families At Risk Of Losing Health Insurance

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - A health insurance program that covers nine million low-income children across the country is running out of money.

Congress missed the deadline to extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, back in September and if lawmakers don't act soon, thousands of children in California will lose coverage.

"This is a terrible tragedy, we're playing politics with children's health," said California Senator Dr. Richard Pan.

On Monday Colorado sent out letters to families warning them that they may lose coverage, and while California hasn't done that, the concern is high.

"I see so many children who rely on this program," said Pan.

Dr. Pan has been involved with the CHIP program since its inception about 2 decades ago, and as a pediatrician knows how important this program is for working class families.

"These are families that are working that often don't get health coverage for their kids because maybe their employer only covers them, the employee," he said.

The program covers 1.3 million kids in CA, more than any other state. And nationwide it cares for 9 million children and more than 350,000 pregnant women who get prenatal care.

CHIP has been instrumental to bringing down the uninsured rate among children from 14.5% to 4.5% in 2015.

But if it's not funded, many families are in trouble.

"It means that a kid who with insurance would go to the doctors office and get a cheap antibiotic, would then go to the emergency room. And that would make the taxpayers pay a whole lot more than they would otherwise," said Ed Howard senior counsel for the Children's Advocacy Institute.

Despite its popularity and bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, Howard says political dysfunction in Washington has stalled the funding of the bill as Congress is focused on the new tax bill and other priorities.

"Both parties agree this is the right thing to do to prevent child suffering and the right thing to do to ensure fiscal responsibility, and they can't get it done. It's just not as important as everything they want to rush through and get done before Christmas," said Howard.

The California Department of Health Care Services says "if CHIP is not reauthorized, the Governor and legislature would need to deliberate on how best to address the population no longer eligible for federal CHIP funding."

"The state is gonna receive a lot less federal funding for the program and if CHIP goes away, that's gonna blow essentially a billion dollar hole in our state budget," said Dr. Pan.

And that's the big question.

State health officials say if the program is not funded the state is still obligated to cover 98 percent of kids through Medicaid for another year.

But where is that money coming from?

"We should be active with our congressional representatives, we should be active with our lawmakers to get this renewed as soon as possible," said Anthony Wright, Executive director for Health Access

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