Virginia residents with children enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program were warned they will lose their coverage if Congress does not reauthorize and fund the program by the end of January 2018.
The state sent a letter to 68,000 families and more than 1,000 pregnant women on Dec. 12, encouraging them to schedule doctor's appointments "in case Congress does not pass legislation," WRIC reports.
CHIP ran out of federal funding on Sept. 30, reports CNN.
Although Congress is in favor of finding a bipartisan way to fund CHIP, Ashley Everette of the nonprofit group Voices for Virginia's Children doesn't think it will reach a solution fast enough to prevent a gap in coverage, which could have serious consequences.
"Pediatricians see a lot of kids with asthma," Everette said. "And not being able to get your inhaler can be life-threatening."
More than 95 percent of Virginia's children are insured, either through their parents' insurance or through CHIP or Medicaid. But it's not just children in Virginia who could lose health insurance.
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel used his monologue on Dec. 11 to explain the wide-reaching effects of losing the program.
"It covers around 9 million American kids whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but don't have access to affordable coverage through their jobs," Kimmel said while cradling his baby son Billy, who recently underwent heart surgery.
Originally created in 1997 by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and former Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, CHIP has become a point of partisan dispute since the GOP began devoting its time to the tax overhaul.
"There hasn't been any agreement on spending caps so it's pushed all of this to the end of the year," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a GOP senator from Texas. "Unfortunately it looks like we may get kicked over into January before all of this can get done."
Democrats allege the GOP is delaying CHIP until it can get all of its tax votes, and that it is using it as a bargaining tactic.
"I think the holdup is that Republicans want to dangle it as if they're not going to do it to try to extract a concession," said Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. "We got the votes for it. All it does is terrorize parents right before Christmas and make them worry about whether their kid will lose health insurance, which is so stupid."
In November, after Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio accused Hatch of not caring about CHIP, he reminded her he helped create the program.
"No one believes more in the CHIP than I," he said.
Still, senators remain hopeful CHIP will be funded, as it has always been supported by both sides.
"Most everything has gotten polarized and politicized in [Washington] so I'm not terribly surprised," said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. "My guess is it gets reauthorized."