A health insurance program covering thousands of low-income children and new and expectant mothers across Colorado - including more than 7,200 in El Paso County - could run out of money in two months.
The Child Health Plan Plus program will end Jan. 31, unless Congress reauthorizes funding for it after having failed to do so earlier this year for the first time in two decades.
On Monday, the program's leaders sent letters to enrollees across the state, suggesting they begin researching new options for coverage in case Congress doesn't act in time. As recently as September, it covered 7,268 children and mothers in El Paso County, and 75,334 people across the state.
"It's frustrating that our CHP+ families are facing this uncertainty, especially during the holidays," said Tom Massey, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing's interim executive director, in a statement.
The program offers health coverage to children, pregnant women and new mothers whose household incomes are under 260 percent of the federal poverty level. That's about $42,200 for a family of two and about $64,000 for a family of four.
That coverage is available for an annual fee that's based on a sliding scale, which tops out at $105 per family. Enrollees also can be charged copays.
Congress had until Sept. 30 to reauthorize its share of the program, known nationally as the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. But that never happened, leaving states scrambling to keep the program going on fumes as long as possible.
Five states are slated to run out of money in late December, according to the Georgetown University's Center on Children and Families.
In Colorado, administrators are using leftover funding from the previous fiscal year to keep the program going through January.
The federal government pays for 88 percent of the program's tab, and the state uses several other funding sources, including the CHP+ Trust Fund, to round out its budget. No general fund money is used for it.
Funding CHP+ would cost $159 million, said Marc Williams, a Health Care Policy and Finance spokesman.
"I don't think we have $159 million sitting on the shelves somewhere," Williams said.
The program has been instrumental in lowering the uninsured rate among children in Colorado to 3 percent, health policy experts say.
"Historically, the CHIP program has had resounding bipartisan support," said Adam Fox of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. "But I think if you asked anybody if they thought the funding would lapse at the end of September, nobody would have guessed that would happen.
"Everybody was very much hoping this would have been figured out by now."
Colorado's health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, would offer a special enrollment period for CHP+ enrollees, should the program end, according to Monday's letter.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.