Tom Forslund

Wyoming Department of Health director Tom Forslund testifies in May during at a legislative meeting.

Elysia Conner, Star-Tribune

Wyoming health officials warned lawmakers last week that a federally funded program to insure children is running out of money and will end this spring unless Congress acts.

The funding for Child’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, expired Sept. 30 after Congress failed to reauthorize it. The program insures roughly 3,300 children in Wyoming, a Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman said. The children come from families who fall in a financial gap. They make too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance.

Nationwide, about 8.9 million children were enrolled in CHIP last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and Medicaid figures.

Both Sen. John Barrasso and Sen. Mike Enzi support reauthorizing the program and both predicted that would happen soon.

Enzi “has been in contact with the state of Wyoming to ensure that the state will not face a funding shortfall in the near future, and children will not lose coverage in the state,” the senator’s spokesman Max D’Onofrio said in an email. “He has also been engaged with those members leading on this issue in the Senate towards extending this program.”

In Wyoming, the federal government provides 88 percent of the funding for CHIP, health department director Tom Forslund told lawmakers last week. The state covers the remaining 12 percent and contracts the program through Blue Cross Blue Shield — essentially the only private insurer in the state and the only one to participate in the Obamacare exchanges.

“The two-year program budget total that is being requested for state fiscal years 19 and 20 is roughly $29.8 million,” department spokeswoman Kim Deti said in a email. “Of that, roughly $26.2 million would be federal funds with remaining general funds (covering the state’s contribution).”

That estimate assumes that the program is reauthorized, she added.

For now, the state is using leftover funds from last year. But they won’t last forever: Forslund estimated funding would run out by April, and if Congress does not reauthorize CHIP, the department will begin informing families this winter that their children are going to lose insurance.

On a national level, the program has bipartisan support and the hang up appears to be how to fund the program going forward. In November, the House passed a reauthorization bill that many Democrats voted against, objecting to provisions that would affect Obamacare, according to the Washington Post. The paper reported that “it’s quite possible a deal will be reached before Christmas.”

Should that not happen and the federal funding is completely cut off, Wyoming will almost certainly have to end the program. While some states have said they’ll continue to fund it 100 percent through their general fund, Wyoming’s current fiscal situation makes that a near certain impossibility, Forslund told lawmakers.

“Obviously Wyoming isn’t in a position to do it,” he said.

Indeed, CHIP is not even the largest shortfall the health department is facing. For the current two-year budget cycle, which ends June 30, the state has a $32 million Medicaid shortfall. The health department has been slashed by $100 million department in recent years as state lawmakers grapple with deficits brought on by the energy downturn.

Deti, the department spokeswoman, said there’s hope, but without funding, the state would have few options. She said some families can pursue insurance through the state’s health care exchanges, which would allow them to enroll despite the fact that open enrollment ended late last week.

Still, Wyoming is relatively fortunate. Other states are already informing families.

“We do have a little more time than some states you’re hearing about nationally,” Deti said.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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