Insurance for kids from low-income families at risk amid Obamacare debate, advocates warn

Health coverage for more than 100,000 children from low-income families in Illinois could be in jeopardy if Congress doesn’t act soon to renew a program that health advocates say is being overshadowed by debate over Obamacare.

In Illinois, about 131,000 kids receive health care coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a state- and federally funded program for children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to pay for private insurance. The program is set to expire Saturday.

There’s broad bipartisan support in Congress for reauthorizing the program, and Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have introduced a bill to do just that.

But the impending expiration is making children’s health care advocates nervous, especially as congressional Republicans focus on trying to pass another bill to repeal and replace Obamacare — officially known as the Affordable Care Act — before the end of this month.

Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer for Advocate Children’s Hospital, said he’s worried lawmakers might try to use reauthorization of the children’s program as leverage for passing the latest Obamacare repeal and replace bill, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill.

“I know there’s debate still over the Affordable Care Act, but let’s not cut health care for kids,” Belmonte said.

In Illinois, about 88 percent of the funding for the children’s program comes from the federal government — about $218 million in fiscal year 2017, according to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

If Congress fails to renew that program, many states have said they will run out of federal funding by early next year, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Illinois did not supply information about when it might run out of funds for that survey, and a spokesman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services was not immediately able to say…

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