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CHIP program extended as Congress and White House battle over funding

SHARE CHIP program extended as Congress and White House battle over funding

WASHINGTON — Children enrolled in a federal health insurance program now have until Nov. 16 before it expires, while the White House and Congress continue to fight over the best way to reauthorize the program.

The Senate on Thursday approved a $35 billion expansion to the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. President Bush has repeatedly said he will veto the measure.

The program originally expired Sept. 30, which would have left those children now in the program without coverage until Congress came to an agreement. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Friday that the continuing resolution, also passed Thursday, extended the CHIP program for a few more weeks.

President Bush requested that Leavitt, former Utah governor, work with states to figure out what to do if there was a lapse. Leavitt said that all but 13 states have funds available to continue to cover children who receive insurance through the program if Congress does not reauthorize it.

"The president remains committed to reauthorization," Leavitt said.

The Senate passed the bill 67 to 29 late Thursday. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who helped create the CHIP program in 1997, voted in favor of the bill, while Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, voted against it.

Hatch said the bill is a "good compromise" between the House and Senate versions of the bill passed earlier this year, while Bennett said the bill "goes well beyond the original intent" of the law to give low-income children health insurance.

The Senate passed the bill by a majority that could probably override the expected presidential veto, but the House passed it earlier this week with a 265-159 vote, which is short of the two-thirds needed to override.

The director of CHIP in Utah said earlier this week that the program has enough funding to continue unaltered for another six months. CHIP currently covers 27,000 children in Utah and receives a $4 federal match for each state dollar spent.

The state's leading child-welfare advocacy group responded Friday evening by again urging President Bush to sign the compromise bill. Voices for Utah Children, which considers CHIP the most successful and efficient health-care reform in years, also urged Utah's congressional delegation to vote to override a veto.

The advocacy group has forwarded 100 letters from children covered by the insurance to the White House. The letters advise the president that insurance is as necessary for poor children as for children whose parents who can afford coverage through their work.

An 11-year-old writes that his brother probably wouldn't have been able to have surgery he needed without CHIP. Many of the letters are addressed to first lady Laura Bush and ask her to persuade her husband not to veto the bill.

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com