Any lawmaker who says children are his priority should support extending a program that gives health coverage to millions of them, said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

The Children's Health Insurance Program, created in 1997, provides health coverage to about 8 million U.S. children in families that can't afford private coverage but have incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid.

"It's been a remarkable success across the country," Casey said during a Thursday conference call with reporters.

The program, which has had consistent bipartisan support, is authorized through fiscal year 2019, but its funding will run out on Sept. 30, 2015.

That's why Casey and other lawmakers are backing the CHIP Extension Act of 2014, which was introduced last week and would provide funding for the program through fiscal year 2019.

Impact: In addition to funding CHIP, the bill offers refinements to the current program, such as enrolling newborns automatically, improving access to preventive services and giving states the option to expand their coverage.

Throughout Pennsylvania, about 270,000 children are covered through the program, Casey said, and even rural counties have hundreds of children enrolled.

As of December 2013, York County had 7,562 children enrolled in CHIP, with 6,239 of them in households with an income no greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The rest were from households with an income between 200 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level.


Head start: Casey said he's concerned CHIP's extension won't be accomplished because there isn't enough bipartisan support for it, but politicians in either party should make the extension their No. 1 priority.

The best way for lawmakers to prove themselves worthy of being called a "champion of children" is to vote to fund the program, Casey said.

"If you don't have an alternative for this, then you should vote for it," he said.

Although the program's funding will last for more than a year, passing an extension this year will help states plan their budgets next year, Casey said.

Casey said he's not sure what the total cost of four years of CHIP funding would be, but it's a program that has given enormous benefits for children and their families.

"The number should not slow us down," he said.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at