House Passes SCHIP Reauthorization, Expansion Bill; Senate To Act Soon
The House on Wednesday voted 289-139 to approve a bill (HR 2) renewing and expanding SCHIP to about four million additional children, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 1/15). Under the expansion, similar to one that was vetoed by President Bush in 2007, 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 will raise the number of children covered by SCHIP from around seven million to around 11 million (Armstrong , CQ Today, 1/14). The measure extends the program by four-and-one-half years at a cost of $32.3 billion, on top of the current $25 billion cost of the program (New York Times, 1/15). SCHIP's current authorization expires March 31 (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/14). The bill would almost be completely funded by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax (New York Times, 1/15).
The bill also includes a provision that would allow states to waive the federally mandated five-year waiting period for documented immigrants seeking to receive public benefits in the case of children and pregnant women (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 1/15). 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 (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/14).
Republicans raised several objections to the bill, including that tobacco revenues were not increasing quickly enough to offset the cost of the bill, that some children who were already privately covered would be included and that the bill does not require states to ensure that the poorest children are covered first, according to the New York Times (New York Times, 1/15). House Republicans issued a policy statement Wednesday detailing their objections to the expansion bill. The statement said, "Increasing the amount of federal tax dollars flowing to states that consciously choose to provide benefits to children of these higher-income families before enrolling already eligible poor and low income children is the wrong policy and sends the wrong signal" (Murray/Connolly, Washington Post, 1/15).
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said, "I think the real concern is eligibility is being increased without making sure those children who really qualify for SCHIP are covered, and, secondly, really the oversight of the program is lacking because they're really not requiring the kind of verification that needs to be done" (Edney, CongressDaily, 1/14).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the passage is a "monumental achievement for our country and certainly for this Congress" (Lengell, Washington Times, 1/15). Democrats also dismissed Republicans' complaints over the bill's funding source. Pelosi said, "Forty days in Iraq equals over 10 million children in America insured for one year. We certainly can afford to do that" (Freking, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/15). House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said, "Soon we will have a new president who has committed himself to reforming our nation's health care system so every American can access affordable and quality health care," adding, "The bill ... makes a down payment on that promise" (Los Angeles Times, 1/15). President-elect Barack Obama said that the bill is "good economic policy," and asked the Senate to act quickly to pass the bill "so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am president" (Bendery, Roll Call, 1/14).
The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday will begin mark up on a similar bill (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/15). The Senate bill does not include the waiver for immigrant pregnant women and children. Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he did not include the provision in the bill because it was not part of the bipartisan legislation negotiated in 2007, but said he supports the waiver. Committee member John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on Thursday is expected to propose an amendment that would add the waiver to the bill. The amendment likely will be approved, according to CQ Today (Armstrong , CQ Today, 1/14). The Senate measure is expected to pass "soon after" Obama's inauguration, the Washington Times reports (Washington Times, 1/15).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on the passage of the bill. The segment includes comments from several House members (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 1/15).