U.S. Senate Slated To Greenlight Expansion of Kids’ Health Insurance
The Senate on Thursday is expected to approve legislation that would reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program and expand coverage to about four million additional children, the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 1/29).
SCHIP is set to expire on March 1.
Under the expansion bill (HR 2), children in families with incomes of up to three times the federal poverty level would qualify for the program. Supporters of the bill say it would raise the number of children covered by SCHIP from about seven million to about 11 million (California Healthline, 1/26).
The measure, which would increase SCHIP spending by $31.5 billion over four-and-one-half years, would be funded mainly by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax (Freking, AP/Boston Globe, 1/29).
Senate Democrats hope to hold a final vote on the bill Thursday before moving on to economic stimulus legislation (CongressDaily, 1/29).
Senate approval of the bill would trigger a conference with the House to resolve differences in the two versions of the legislation (Washington Post, 1/29).
The House approved its version of the bill earlier this month.
Votes on Amendments
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 65-32 to reject an amendment by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that would have added about two million uninsured children to the program (AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 1/28).
McConnell's amendment would have increased SCHIP spending by $19.3 billion over the same four-and-one-half year period, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.
The measure would have increased the amount states can provide in premium assistance for residents who purchase private health insurance as a way to prevent "crowd out," as well as limit federal funding to states that enroll anyone other than children and pregnant women in SCHIP. McConnell's proposal did not include the waiver for documented immigrant pregnant women and children.
The amendment would have been funded by eliminating certain Medicaid payments and other changes to federal health care spending (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/28).
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, "This is not the bill we intended," adding that Democrats' decision to "simply ram it down our throats ... is very, very bad precedent," referring to the addition of several provisions to the bill that were not agreed upon in the negotiations surrounding the 2007 reauthorization bill.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said of the immigrant waiver, "Our U.S. citizen children should be covered first."
In response, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "Those kids come from low-income families with parents that work hard and pay taxes just like citizens," and those "kids need checkups and prescriptions just like all other [SCHIP] kids."
Republicans also said that the reauthorization plan could cause as many as two million children to drop their private health coverage to join SCHIP.Baucus noted that the bill allows states to subsidize employer-sponsored coverage for children, a move that he said would encourage them to stay on private plans (Washington Post, 1/29). 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.