Congress Discusses Children’s Health Coverage Expansion
Congress has begun bipartisan discussion on how to expand state SCHIP programs, "a debate that could move the nation closer to universal healthcare for children," the Boston Globe reports. The joint state-federal program is set to expire Sept. 30.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers "are hoping to build on momentum from the final hours of the outgoing Congress," in which they worked to prevent 560,000 children from losing health coverage.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he plans to refile his bill to guarantee health coverage for all children through SCHIP and other programs. Ten Democratic senators signed onto the measure during the 2005-2006 session, but the bill stalled in committee.
In addition, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) is working to address an estimated $700 million funding shortfall for the program in 2006.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the program in its current form will cost the federal government $5 billion this fiscal year and an additional $12 billion over the next five years to maintain current services.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she is committed to providing more health care coverage to children but has not yet detailed what level of spending she would support.
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said that efforts should first center on enrolling all eligible children in SCHIP before expanding the program.
According to the Globe, "One obstacle that could hamstring Democrats is their commitment to follow 'pay-as-you-go' budgeting rules," which require spending increases to be offset by budget cuts or additional revenue (Klein, Boston Globe, 12/15).