Congress misses deadline to fund program that covers 83,000 Alabama children

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( — A program that provides health insurance to 83,000 Alabama children could run out of money by March after Congress missed a weekend funding deadline, according to an administrator with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) launched in 1997 and provides funding for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but still struggle to afford coverage. In Alabama, the program is called ALL Kids and is administered through the Alabama Department of Public Health. For the past two years, 100 percent of the funding for ALL Kids has come from the federal government.

The program covers routine care, including check-ups and vaccinations, as well as prescriptions and hospital care. Services are provided at low or no cost for covered families. In Alabama, premiums range from $52 to $104 a year per child, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health website.

Cathy Caldwell, director of the Bureau of Children's Health Insurance Programs for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the state has enough money to continue the program until March. The program is still accepting applications and enrolling children.

But she said that Congress needs to act soon to prevent disruption in the state. It could take months to transition children to other insurance programs, and she said the state will have to start that process if funding is not extended.

"A lot of things will have to happen to shut the program down," Caldwell said. "If we knew for sure we were not going to be funded, we would have already started that process."

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