By Russell Blair

Notices will be sent out later this month to the parents of 17,000 Connecticut children and teens covered by the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, warning them their coverage could end early next year if Congress doesn't act soon.

"Given the uncertainty of congressional action to extend the program, it is incumbent upon the state to warn those who could be potentially affected before they lose coverage," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote in a letter to legislative leaders Friday.

The program covers children from low- and moderate-income families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. A family of four in Connecticut can earn up to $79,458 and qualify for a version of CHIP with maximum monthly premiums of $50. Funding for CHIP expired on Sept. 30.

Malloy said the Department of Social Services will send notices by mid-December warning parents that their HUSKY B coverage, as CHIP is referred to in Connecticut, may end on Jan. 31 if Congress does not vote to reauthorize funding.

A second notice will be sent in late December or early January to let parents know if their children may qualify for Medicaid or a plan purchased through Access Health CT, the state's health insurance exchange.

"This will undoubtedly be disruptive and alarming to those receiving notices -- and then possibly losing coverage -- and we should all be prepared for the fallout," Malloy wrote.

The state stands to lose $37 million in annual CHIP funding and an additional $40 million in extra federal funding for certain children covered under Medicaid if the program is not reauthorized.

Other states have already notified parents that their coverage may be terminated and some states have had to request additional federal funding to keep their CHIP programs going.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress both say they want to extend funding for CHIP, but the issue has gotten pushed aside by debates over health care and tax reform. A funding bill passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate.

It's possible CHIP reauthorization could be included in an appropriations bill that Congress must pass soon to fund the government into 2018.

(c)2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)