Money that provides health insurance to 68,000 children in Tennessee through CoverKids ends in September unless Congress renews funding for the program.
It's a program that many working parents with moderate incomes depend upon to keep their children healthy. CoverKids, which is Tennessee's verison of the Children's Health Insurance Program, is available for a family of four making up to $59,628 a year.
Ron Pollack, president of Families USA, said he's worried that political gridlock in Congress could put health coverage in jeopardy for as many as 2 million children. It could cost a family as much as $16,000 a year to buy coverage on the private market, he said.
"The refunding of the Children's Health Insurance Program is the most important health policy issue that Congress will need to face in the next year and possibly the entire next Congress," Pollack said.
On July 29, the heads of the House and Senate committees responsible for bills that would extend funding sent letters to the nation's governors asking for their input on whether and how the program should be extended and what changes should be made.
"Governors know best how CHIP is working for their state's children, families and hospitals, and I'm glad members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee first asked Gov. Haslam and others to inform any work we do in Washington on this program," said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "Insight from governors will be critical in best serving children in Tennessee and across the country."
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said the CHIP program matters for families.
"CHIP makes sure health insurance is available and affordable for millions of children," Cooper said. "Without it — and especially if Tennessee fails to expand Medicaid — many children could lose coverage. No one wants that."
Pollack is worried that the program will become part of the battle over the Affordable Care Act or get caught up with a bigger funding issue involving Medicare payments to doctors. The letter from the heads of the two congressional committees asks governors how that federal health law has changed their CHIP programs. But it also asks other questions, such as how to improve enrollment.
The bipartisan letter was signed by both the top Democrat and top Republican from each committee.
CHIP was created by Congress in 1997 and reauthorized in 2009, when there was more political debate about the program. Both Alexander and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker supported that reauthorization bill, which also included funding for safety-net hospitals in the state that treat large numbers of uninsured and under-insured people.