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If funding for the federal Children's Health Insurance Program is not renewed soon, by mid-December the state health department will send out letters to families of the 24,000 Montana kids covered under the program, letting them know it will run out of funding at the end of January.

In Montana, CHIP operates under the Healthy Montana Kids program. CHIP covers families with incomes of up to 261 percent of the federal poverty level, or $64,206 for two parents with two children. CHIP-funded Medicaid expansion covers families that earn up to 143 percent of the federal poverty level, or $35,178 for two parents and two children.

"At this time, 24,000 Montana children are at risk of losing their health care coverage through CHIP," Jon Ebelt, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Human Services said in an email earlier this week. "Some states have already run out of funds. DPHHS is making plans to send letters to Montana families in mid-December that their children’s health coverage will end unless Congress reauthorizes the funding."

A week and a half ago, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester held an event in Helena with fellow Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock to raise awareness about the funding. 

A spokesman for Tester said there have been discussions about including CHIP re-authorization in the year-end government funding bill. The deadline for that is Dec. 8.

Tester on Tuesday again advocated for support of the program.

“CHIP not only provides Montana families with peace of mind, it provides life-saving health care for kids. No parent should have to choose between putting a roof over their kid’s head and providing an inhaler for their kid’s asthma," Tester said. "I’ll hold accountable any Washington politician who wants to play political games that punish kids.”

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines has also supported the program. Montana's Rep. Greg Gianforte has also voted in the House to extend CHIP funding for another five years, but the bill was not acted on in the Senate.

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State Bureau reporter for The Independent Record.

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