Failure to fund CHIP could soon trigger warning to Virginia families

By  | 

ROANOKE CO., Va. (WDBJ7) Joanna Spar and her co-workers at Roanoke County's Department of Social Services are bracing for an outpouring of concern, once families enrolled in the FAMIS program receive termination notices.

Cropped Photo: Bjoertvedt / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Thousands of Virginia families that benefit from the federal Children's Health Insurance program will soon be notified their coverage could be in jeopardy.

CHIP has strong bipartisan support in Congress, but so far lawmakers have failed to reauthorize the program, and in Virginia the money runs out at the end of January.

"If the letters went out timely, and folks start receiving those, customers will be very confused," Spar told WDBJ7 Friday afternoon. "And we will probably be start getting a lot of phone calls, a lot of visits to the front lobby."

In Virginia, more than 65,000 children and pregnant women are enrolled in the program, known as FAMIS.

In the Roanoke Valley, the number is estimated between two and three thousand.

While we still expect Congress to preserve the funding, families are due to receive 60 days notice that the coverage could end.

"And you can imagine how this would produce tremendous anxiety," said U.S. Senator Tim Kaine in a teleconference with Virginia reporters early in November.

He was urging Congress to take action, to prevent the letters from going out.

"There's been some discussion of don't worry we'll do this at year-end and will make it retroactive back to October 1," Kaine said. "But why needlessly sort of frighten these families with these termination letters... if we think we will get to a solution."

On Friday, several of Virginia's Republican Representatives, including 5th District Congressman Tom Garrett, 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte and 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith issued a letter supporting the program and calling on the Senate to act.

They said, "it's hard to fathom why anyone would play politics with a program that has traditionally received bipartisan support."

Meanwhile, Joanna Spar is encouraging affected families to keep a close eye on the situation.

"Certainly if folks need to call Lynn and speak with their worker we welcome that, and for them to hang in there" Spar said. "The program will at least run through the end of January and hopefully we'll find something out much quicker than that."

Virginia's FAMIS program helps working families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

If the program goes away, some could add their children to an Affordable Care Act or employer policy, but that would be expensive.

Congress could take action soon, but it's still unclear when that might happen.