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House and Senate lawmakers could renew the federal Childrens Health Insurance Program as early as next week since the Congressional Budget Office now estimates a 10-year extension could save taxpayers $6 billion.

CHIP provides insurance to 9 million young people nationally, including 1,800 in Pueblo County. The program will lapse in March unless Congress extends it.

Senate staff said Thursday that the new CBO analysis should remove most of the political differences between House and Senate bills that would extend the CHIP program.

That could clear the way to include the CHIP extension in any budget bill Congress approves next week to keep the federal government operating, Senate staff said Thursday.

The budget office is a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress.

In a letter to lawmakers Thursday, the agency estimates that since the Republican tax reform bill signed by President Donald Trump eliminates the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance, that will save the government billions in other insurance costs, such as an expected drop in providing insurance assistance payments to families.

The children's insurance program has bipartisan support. It covers 90,000 children in Colorado and it's aimed at families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid insurance.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, have joined in sponsoring a Senate extension of the program.

Rep. Scott Tipton, the 3rd District Republican who represents Pueblo, also supports extending the program.

But there has been a political deadlock over some of the provisions the House GOP put in their legislation.

Specifically, the House bill called for requiring seniors with income above $500,000 a year to pay higher Medicare premiums and the bill would cut $5 billion from the federal Affordable Care Act's public health fund.

But the tax-cut legislation passed by Republicans last month has rewritten the economic forecast because it would make sharp reductions in how much the federal government can expect to spend on federal health programs.

"With the new budget numbers, those (Medicare) changes shouldn't be needed to pay for CHIP," a healthcare staffer explained Thursday.

proper@chieftain.com

This article originally ran on chieftain.com.

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