Health & Fitness

14,000 Merced County kids use this program for health insurance. Is the money ending?

Merced County Human Services Agency at Castle Commerce Center on Aug. 3, 2016.
Merced County Human Services Agency at Castle Commerce Center on Aug. 3, 2016.

A health insurance program for low-income kids is going to run out of money by the end of the year and thousands of Merced County children depend on it.

Congress missed the September deadline to extend federal funding for the Children Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP, and now the state needs to figure out a way to continue the funding.

CHIP was created 20 years ago and is designed for families who earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal.

California is among the 11 states estimated to run out of funding by the end of the month, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In Merced County, 14,000 children are enrolled in CHIP, according to data from the Merced County Human Services Agency.

Last year, $2.4 billion federal dollars were given to California for CHIP funding, according to data from Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families. The federal government gives states 65 to 85 percent of the money needed for the program and the rest comes from the Medicaid budget.

However, people in Merced County shouldn’t “rush to fear” or have major concerns, according to Scott Pettygrove, director of the Merced County Human Services Agency.

Pettygrove anticipates the state will continue to fund CHIP, he said, and it’s “less likely” a large number of people will be cut from their health insurance.

“The program does have support and I don’t anticipate them closing it out,” Pettygrove said. CHIP is popular with Republicans and Democrats, he said, and it would be “very surprising” if the program was removed.

A county like Merced, with a high percentage of Medi-Cal recipients, “would be hit” if federal funds are lost because the money has to come from somewhere else, likely from other groups and that “doesn’t help either,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide healthcare consumer advocacy coalition.

“California policymakers (would) have to choose among our children,” Wright said.

In California, more than $2 million children depend on CHIP, according to Georgetown University data. Kaiser Family Health reports 8.9 million children nationwide were covered under CHIP in fiscal year 2016.