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MT Families Will Feel Financial Strain without CHIP

About 23,000 Montana children will lose their health insurance if funding for CHIP isn't reauthorized. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
About 23,000 Montana children will lose their health insurance if funding for CHIP isn't reauthorized. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
January 8, 2018

HELENA, Mont. – Health care for thousands of children in Montana hangs in the balance despite a temporary funding patch for the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Congress supplied enough money for CHIP to run through March, as part of a last minute deal before its holiday break.

Nine million children rely on the program nationwide and in Montana, 23,000 will lose coverage if funding isn't reauthorized.

Jennifer Calder, outreach and communications director at Montana Kids Count, says CHIP funds also help another 7,000 children who received coverage in the state's Medicaid expansion in 2015. She says without it, these families will feel the financial strain.

"Many of these families are already on very tight budgets, which is why they qualified for CHIP health insurance, and they would have to make some compromises in their budget,” she explains. “We're looking at paying bills, we're look at food, we're looking at less spending in local economies so that their children could have health insurance."

In the Treasure State, CHIP is known as Healthy Montana Kids. It helps fill a gap for families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid but might not otherwise be able to afford coverage.

CHIP has had bipartisan support since the 1990s, when it was authored by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Funding for the program originally ran out at the end of September.

In addition to families not knowing from month to month if they'll have the coverage, Calder says there are a number of negative effects for children who don't have access to health insurance.

"They tend to miss more school, but also, they tend to have more crisis – where they have to be rushed to the ER – and that ends up being more costly for the family,” she points out. “So, the financial burden can be really dire for families, particularly of children with chronic health conditions."

In Montana, more than 98 percent of the state's $94.7 million for CHIP services in 2016 came from the federal government, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT