Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters he would be in favor of extending the Children's Health Insurance Program for five years in a move sure to please Democrats and program supporters.
The statement came after a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, which Hatch chairs, on the fate of CHIP, which needs to be reauthorized by the end of this month. Several witnesses at the hearing said that the program should to be reauthorized for five years to provide more certainty for families and states.
The last time CHIP was reauthorized was in 2015.
"It's my bill, so sure. I have no problem with that," Hatch told reporters in response to a question if he was open to a five-year reauthorization.
Hatch co-authored CHIP back in 1997 with now-deceased Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.
CHIP is a joint federal-state program that insures low-income children. States get a federal match for funding and have to contribute some to the program as well.
The federal government estimates that 8.9 million children got insurance through CHIP in 2016. While some of the children can get insurance through private coverage, which could force families to pay considerably more than under CHIP, according to the congressional advisory board Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission called MACPAC.
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said that he wanted to get the "longest possible extension and the most generous funding possible."
The federal government is projected to spend $17.4 billion for CHIP for federal fiscal year 2018, which starts on Oct. 1.
Wyden neglected to say if he only wanted a five-year extension, which was a recommendation from MACPAC.
"I am gonna talk to a chairman about it," he said.
Experts at the Senate Finance hearing urged for a longer reauthorization period beyond just two years.
"It dampens innovation and probably limits state investment when the future is so uncertain," said Linda Nablo, chief deputy director for Virginia's Department of Medical Assistance Services.
It remains unclear how much funding would be for the program. The Affordable Care Act added a 23 percent bump to CHIP funding that Democrats want to continue.
Senators also need to resolve these issues very soon. Wyden said that he knows the chamber has a very busy September but wants a vote on CHIP before funding and the program itself expires at the end of September.
"This cannot get short shrift," he said. "This has got to be way up the priority list. Failure to do it will have real consequences, particularly for children."