Business & Tech

State pledges to sustain child health program, even if Congress fails to provide funding

Massachusetts’ top health official said Thursday that the state would maintain health coverage for thousands of children through the middle of 2018, even if Congress fails to approve new funding for the popular program on which they rely.

About 172,000 children in Massachusetts from low- and moderate-income families are covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, whose cost is paid mostly by the federal government (the rest is covered by the state). Congress missed the Sept. 30 deadline for reauthorizing funding.

Most Massachusetts children now on CHIP would remain covered here because they are eligible for the state Medicaid program.

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Marylou Sudders, the state secretary of health and human services, said Massachusetts could maintain coverage if Congress reauthorizes federal funding sometime in the next few months.

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“We technically would run out of money in mid-January, but through administrative actions we could take, we would be able to maintain the CHIP program for the rest of this fiscal year,” which ends on June 30, she said.

Without continued federal funding, Massachusetts is at risk of losing about $148 million in the current fiscal year and $295 million annually after that, state officials said — a significant hit to an already stretched state health care budget.

CHIP is a 20-year-old program that typically enjoys broad bipartisan support. But it has received less attention in Congress this year than other priorities, such as tax reform.

Some states have already started telling families that funding for the program is running out, but Sudders said Massachusetts won’t take that step until the spring, if necessary.

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“CHIP has never not been reauthorized, it affects every state in the union, and it’s children,” she said. “So I have some modicum of confidence that Congress will do the right thing, and there’s good conversations in Congress right now about the CHIP program.”

The program also covers thousands of pregnant women in Massachusetts, who are at risk of losing coverage unless federal funding is renewed.

Public officials across the country have been urging Congress to move quickly to approve new funding for CHIP.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and several other governors sent a letter to congressional leaders this week urging them to quickly fund the program.

“We encourage you to work across the aisle to find common ground that will allow this important program to continue and give the families who rely on CHIP the peace of mind of knowing that their children will be able to get the health care they need in the new year,” the governors said.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.