More than 1,000 children in Wayne County could lose health insurance by March of 2018 if the federal government does not renew funding for a program geared to provide them coverage.

There are 1,274 children in the county covered under the N.C. Health Choice program, which is funded by the federal Child Health Insurance Program.

Funding for CHIP lapsed as of Sept. 30, which put the program in a tenuous position on the state level.

If the federal funding is not restored, the burden to fund the program would fall solely on the state.

North Carolina Sen. Louis Pate, R-Dist. 7, who serves on the N.C. General Assembly's Appropriation on Health and Human Services Committee and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, said the legislature will "investigate what can be done."

"We have to study all the ramifications of everything like that," he said.

Pate said the oversight committee will be going through items as a result of Congressional action before the end of the year.

"I feel certain we will take a look at that," he said.

N.C. Health Choice provides insurance to children in low-income households.

Cynthia Graham, economics service program manager at Wayne County Department of Social Services, said N.C. Health Choice provides health insurance to children between 6 and 18 years of age to families that would make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but are still unable to provide insurance for their children.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released a statement saying Congress should renew the funding stream.

"CHIP provides health and dental care to over 200,000 children each month across the state," said the NC DHHS statement.

"Congress should act now to reauthorize this critical program for North Carolina's working families."

Rob Thompson of N.C. Child, a non-profit organization geared toward improving the overall well-being of children in the state, said that the funding shortfall will not impact coverage in the state immediately.

"The good news is North Carolina has some funding in the bank to continue to provide insurance through the program through early 2018," he said.

"No kids have lost insurance. But it will happen, if Congress does not act."

Thompson said that should the funding not be restored, there are 110,000 children in the state who are insured under N.C. Health Choice who could immediately lose coverage once the state's funds are exhausted. Otherwise the state could freeze enrollment all together.

"The kids in the stand alone (N.C. Health Choice coverage) are the most vulnerable for immediately losing their health insurance," he said.

"There is no mandate to keep them insured."

CHIP also funds a portion of the state's child Medicaid recipients -- 145,000 kids across the state, said Thompson.

"For all kids enrolled in Medicaid, there is a federal requirement that says you cannot change the enrollment requirements until 2019," he said.

"So, North Carolina is required to keep them insured until 2019, but they are still vulnerable after 2019."

Leanna George, of Benson, spoke at a U.S. Senate hearing in regard to CHIP funding in September, before the renewal lapse.

Her son is a beneficiary of CHIP funds through the less vulnerable Medicaid/CHIP program, but she said it would only take a slight raise in household income before he would qualify for N.C. Health Choice.

"I serve on several different committees and such, and my son is a CHIP recipient," she said.

"We are trying to save 100,000 kids if CHIP is not reauthorized."

George said, originally, CHIP funding was rolled into the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace initiatives that were unsuccessful.

"At first, they were trying to roll CHIP in ACA (Affordable Care Act) reform -- obviously those reforms did not go anywhere -- and now, we are kind of strapped for time to get the programs reauthorized and refunded," she said.

"I think that had a lot to do with it. I think they thought it would be easy to reauthorize because CHIP has always had bipartisan support."

She said she believes that CHIP funding has become a tool where reauthorization is held hostage to gain an upper hand in political negotiations.

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to take a vote on reinstating the funding this week.

Spokesperson for Rep. David Rouzer, R-Dist. 7, said he intends to support the renewal of the funding.