Ohio Gov. John Kasich. AP

Kasich urges Congress to OK extension of child health program

With time running out, Ohio Gov. John Kasich urged Congress to approve “as quickly as possible” an extension of a health program that provides coverage to nearly 220,000 children in Ohio.

In a letter to Senate and House Republican and Democratic leaders Tuesday, Kasich and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado warned that failure to extend the program will jeopardize “access to essential health services like well child exams, asthma medicine, and hospitalizations.”

“Resources are nearly exhausted and some states already have begun to inform families that their children’s coverage may end on January 31,” the two governors wrote in the letter which was signed by 10 other governors.

The program, known as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and often called CHIP, was first established in 1997 with a bipartisan agreement between President Bill Clinton and Republican lawmakers in Congress, including Kasich who then was a congressman from Ohio.

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Because the program expires at the end of the year, Congress needs to approve a five-year extension that is expected to cost $9 billion. If Congress fails to act, Ohio could continue the program but receive far fewer federal dollars to finance it.

The House last month approved a five-year extension, but to finance the cost of the measure House Republicans demanded a $10.5 cut from a federal program that helps finance improvements in the public health system. The program was created in 2010 through the health law known as Obamacare.

With the backing of Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Sen. Rob Portman, the Senate Finance Committee earlier this fall approved its $9 billion version that would guarantee that children keep their coverage through 2019. But the Senate bill does not cut other programs to pay for it.

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Congressional Republicans have suggested that they will finance the program when they pass a government spending bill this month.

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