MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A program providing insurance for children of low-income families in Alabama and other states has received some funding to keep it operating through March.
However, the program's long-term future remains in doubt.
Congress again failed to approve long-term funds for the popular program, which provides health insurance for nearly 9 million low-income children.
Lawmakers scrambling to leave the Capitol for the holidays on Thursday approved a short-term patch aimed at keeping the state programs operating through March. However, some Republicans said federal officials think the money would run out by early February. The money was part of a bill averting a weekend federal shutdown.
In Alabama, about 84,000 children were at risk of losing health insurance if Congress had not taken action to provide the short-term funding for the program.
Nationwide, about 9 million children receive coverage through the program, and many states planned to shutter the program if funds ran out.
Families with incomes of up to 312 percent of the federal poverty limit can qualify if they don't have access to affordable insurance. Families pay $52 or $104 a year to cover children under the age of 19, depending on income, plus small co-pays for sick visits.
"These are middle-income working Alabama families," said Cathy Caldwell, director of the Bureau of Children's Health Insurance Programs for the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The program in Alabama funded by CHIP is known as ALL Kids, which has existed in the state since 1998.
Caldwell said ALL Kids was very popular and successful. When the program started about 20 percent of children in Alabama lacked health insurance. That number is now 2.4 percent — the best in the South.
"It is a very, very important and popular program," Caldwell said. "It has served hundreds of thousands of children over the years."
Before Congress decided late in the week to provide the reprieve through March, Caldwell said her staff had already received calls from Alabama parents worried about their children's health coverage.
Caldwell said that if ALL Kids were to end entirely, parents could seek insurance outside of the open enrollment period. But she said many families might not be able to afford private insurance.
"Some of the children will have that as an option," Caldwell said. "Some may have employer-sponsored insurance. Any of those will be substantially more expensive than ALL Kids."