Thousands of children, pregnant women could lose health coverage

Published: Dec. 12, 2017 at 5:43 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 12, 2017 at 5:44 PM EST
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(WWBT/AP) - Letters are going out now to warn Virginia families who are enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that they could lose coverage unless Congress reauthorizes the program soon. It's coming from the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services.

"If Congress does not authorize CHIP funding, Virginia will run out of funding for its program, called FAMIS, on January 31st," according to a release from Gov. Terry McAuliffe's office.

Right now there are 68,496 Virginia children and 1,114 pregnant women in the program. It's estimated 9 million children benefit from CHIP nationally.

When Kimberly Hassmer's husband unexpectedly lost his job, the Sandston mother of three wondered, how will they get health insurance for their children?

"There weren't too many options out there," she said.

One son with multiple medical issues is covered by Medicaid, but the other two children didn't qualify. The family ended up applying for the program FAMIS, Virginia's health insurance program for children. They signed up just in time because her oldest son broke both his arms while playing outside. The medical bill was tens of thousands of dollars.

"It's what saved our family," said Hassmer. "If we had had to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for medical treatment that was necessary, something that my son really truly needed, we don't know what we would have done."

"There are very limited options for low income families that do not qualify for Medicaid," said Sheryl Garland, vice president of public policy and community with VCU Health Systems.

Losing funding for CHIP is a concern for many hospitals like VCU Health Systems.

"This is a critical issue for our country," said Garland.  "A loss of coverage can create significant concerns for a family  as to how they're going to ensure that especially their children are going to maintain access to services that they need."

But Garland adds VCU is committed to making sure children get the medical treatment they need.

McAuliffe joins 11 other governors of both parties who are urging Congress to reauthorize funding for a popular children's health insurance program as soon as possible.

The recommendation involving CHIP came in a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday.

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper led the letter-writing effort.

It was joined by the governors of Alaska, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia.

Fresh funding for the $14 billion program ran out Oct. 1. Since then, some states have relied on unspent funds. Others got a short-term reprieve in the two-week spending bill President Donald Trump signed Friday.

The governors said funding the program "without disruption" is something they can all agree on.

"It is truly shameful that gridlock and dysfunction in Congress have left nearly 70,000 Virginians who depend on the FAMIS program hanging in limbo," said McAuliffe. "After delaying these notifications to give Congress as much time to act as possible, Virginia has a responsibility to these families to inform them of the possibility that their coverage could lapse so they can be as prepared as possible to explore alternatives. It is past time for Congress to reauthorize this program so that these Virginians can have the certainty they deserve."

Right now there are 68,496 Virginia children and 1,114 pregnant women in the program. Read the full letter here.

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