Money is running out on the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides low-cost coverage to millions of American children and pregnant women.
Congress did not renew the program, which expired in September, and there is no clear replacement ready to be implemented.
CHIP's exact structure varies from state to state, but in many places, finances for the program will run out by the end of the month.
States and the families of the nine million children that rely on CHIP to pay for vital health services are urgently searching for viable alternatives.
TC Bell's (right) daughters, Dagny, 8 and Emma, 4 are recipients of the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP, which provides low-cost coverage to families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid (AP Photo/Tatiana Flowers)
TC Bell knows what life is like without health insurance after growing up with a mother who cobbled together care from a public health clinic, emergency room visits and off-the-books visits to a doctor they knew.
That memory makes Bell, of Denver, grateful for the coverage his two daughters have now under the Children's Health Insurance Program - and concerned about its uncertain future in Congress.
'There's an incredible security that I have with CHIP,' said Bell, 30, who has gone back to community college to reboot his life after working a series of low-paying jobs. 'If my daughters get sick or seriously injured, we can take them to their doctor, rather than when I was growing and had to go through the emergency room. We always kept our fingers crossed back then.'
CHIP provides low-cost coverage to children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. But it has become caught up in a political stalemate over how to fund it.
'The fact that they want to play politics with our kids' health care is appalling,' Bell said. 'All we're asking for is an investment, not a handout. CHIP was built for the working class.'
Each state designs its own version of CHIP with different rules and coverage, so each faces a somewhat different situation. But Arizona, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and the District of Columbia are among the first expected to exhaust their CHIP allotments.
'We're seeing every month more and more states running out of their funding for their CHIP programs, so it's becoming more of a national issue,' said Emily Piper, Minnesota's human services commissioner.
Fresh federal money for CHIP, which was created in 1997, dried up on October 1.
Legislation to extend the program for five more years passed the House earlier this month. However, majority Republicans decided to pay for it partly by cutting a public health program created under former President Barack Obama's health care law, and by raising Medicare premiums on upper-income recipients.
Those provisions make the bill less palatable in the Senate. Senators have agreed on a bill extending the program for five more years but remain divided over how to pay for it.
The Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, covers nearly nine million children in the US.
It provides insurance for those whose families earn more than the upper limit for Medicaid, but cannot afford to buy private insurance for their children.
In most states, families living as much as 200 percent above the poverty line are eligible.
The federal program allocates money to