Without Congressional action, a federal health insurance program that covers nearly nine million children, including 22,000 in Arizona, is set to expire Sept. 30.

And with debate and attention focused on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is in peril.

"It seems very unlikely Congress will take action on CHIP," Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center on Children and Families, told reporters during a call-in this morning.

"The decision by Senate leadership to move forward on another repeal of ACA has halted progress on CHIP...I have a hard time believing they will meet the deadline."

KidsCare/CHIP

KidsCare is Arizona’s version of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. CHIP was created in 1997 with bipartisan support during the Clinton administration.

Until the middle of last year, Arizona was the only state in the U.S. without an active CHIP program and also had one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country.

Data released today by Georgetown shows Arizona's rate of uninsured children dropped from 11.9 percent in 2013 to 7.3 percent last year. The national rate is 4.5 percent, which is an historic low.

Those numbers mean an estimated 119,000 children in Arizona are still uninsured and while Arizona's rate has improved, it is still sixth worst in the country. But gains from KidsCare could  continue a downward trend in the state's uninsured rate, experts say.

Families in the KidsCare income bracket are making too much to qualify for AHCCCS but often not enough to afford commercial insurance, including what’s offered on the federal marketplace, even with subsidies. It currently enrolls 22,300 Arizona children.

AZ children at risk

A Kaiser Family Foundation report  on the outcome for states if CHIP is not renewed says Arizona is one of 10 states that will run out of CHIP/KidsCare funding by the end of this year — a fact confirmed by officials with Arizona's Medicaid program, which is called AHCCCS, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

AHCCCS spokeswoman Heidi Capriotti said the state agency is working with Gov. Doug Ducey's office and the federal government to look at other options in the event CHIP funding is not renewed.

U.S. Senators Orin Hatch, a Republican from Utah and Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, have been trying to push a renewal through Congress. But their Keeping Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act is competing for time on the Senate floor with Graham-Cassidy. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act is also up against a Sept. 30 deadline.

Arizona children are most at risk if Congress does not renew CHIP, Georgetown senior program director Elizabeth Wright Burak wrote on Aug. 14.

"Arizona is squarely in the crosshairs as the state whose children are most immediately at risk if CHIP funding is not renewed during a time of great uncertainty in the U.S. healthcare system," she wrote.

"Children need certainty that the quality, affordable coverage that CHIP provides will remain solidly in place. Arizona policymakers should be on the front lines in the call for a quick, long-term extension of CHIP funding at current levels so that no child experiences disruptions in their healthcare."

Contact health reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@tucson.com

Twitter: @stephanieinnes