House, Senate Schedule Votes on Kids’ Health Insurance Expansion
The House on Wednesday is expected to pass legislation (HR 2) reauthorizing and expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover an additional 4.1 million children, the Washington Post reports.
The measure is projected to cost $33 billion and would extend the program for four-and-one-half years and add to the about seven million children already enrolled.
The package would be funded by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal tobacco tax.Â It is similar to one vetoed by President Bush in 2007 (Murray/Connolly, Washington Post, 1/14).
SCHIP's current authorization expires March 31 (Young , The Hill, 1/13).
The House bill also would allow states to waive the federally mandated five-year waiting period on public benefits for documented immigrants in the case of children and pregnant women (Edney, CongressDaily, 1/13).
Supporters of the provision say about 400,000 to 600,000 children would be added to SCHIP if all states choose to cover children of documented immigrants and pregnant documented immigrants (Freking, AP/Austin American-Statesman, 1/14).
A Senate version of the bill is scheduled for mark up by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, according to the Post (Washington Post, 1/14).
The Senate bill is valued at $31.5 billion and also would reauthorize the program for four-and-one-half years. The Senate version would allow about 3.9 million additional children to join the program, according to a statement from committee chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
The Senate version does not include the provision to waive the five-year waiting period for documented immigrants because "the policy was not included in the bipartisan agreements in 2007" on SCHIP, according to Baucus.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said that the waiting period provision was "controversial" and that it is "the major concern and I think now the major debating point" between the House and Senate (Armstrong , CQ Today, 1/13).
In a statement, Baucus said that he "looks forward to an opportunity to support" the waiver as the bill "moves toward final approval" (O'Connor, The Politico, 1/13).
The Senate will take up the measure after a vote on a wage discrimination bill that could occur "as early as this week," CQ Today reports (Armstrong , CQ Today, 1/13).
House Republican Concerns
In a letter to Pelosi and President-elect Barack Obama on Monday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) reiterated criticisms leveled against the legislation by Republican lawmakers and President Bush during the 2007 SCHIP debate.
The letter, signed by more than 100 House Republicans, said, "During the last Congress, while Republicans and Democrats made progress in working together on SCHIP, there remained several outstanding issues we hope we can address together this year," adding, "To be clear, Republicans are committed to reauthorizing SCHIP in a manner that puts poor children first, which is the original intent of the program" (Young , The Hill, 1/13).
Antonia Ferrier, a spokesperson for Boehner, said, "Without strict limits on who is eligible for the program, the ability of disadvantaged children to access this program will be jeopardized" (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 1/14).
Republicans also oppose waiving the waiting period for immigrant children and pregnant women, according to The Hill (Young , The Hill, 1/13).
Specialty Hospitals Targeted for House Funding Gap
The House measure seeks to bridge a portion of the additional cost of its bill over the Senate version by placing restrictions on specialty hospitals that focus on lucrative areas, such as cardiac care or orthopedics, according to Kristofer Eisenla, a spokesperson for DeGette.
The Senate version is funded completely by the tobacco tax (Armstrong , CQ Today, 1/13).
Critics of specialty hospitals say that self-referral, a practice facilitated by such hospitals, drives up the cost of health care.
The restrictions would prohibit new physician-owned hospitals from opening and limit the expansion of new ones, CongressDaily reports.
In order to expand, the facilities would be required to receive approval from the HHS secretary.
Supporters of the provision say it would allow only 10 of the 200 such hospitals to qualify for expansion.
A lobbyist for physician-owned hospitals said physicians' groups will speak with Democratic constituencies that would be affected by the restrictions and urge them to ask their representatives to oppose the provision (Edney, CongressDaily, 1/14).
Broadcast CoveragePelosi appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday to discuss the SCHIP bill, which she said likely will pass this week ("Morning Edition," NPR, 1/14). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.