Senate Votes 66-32 To Approve SCHIP Reauthorization, Expansion Bill
The Senate on Thursday voted 66-32 to approve legislation (HR 2) that would reauthorize SCHIP and expand coverage to about four million additional children over the next four-and-a-half years, the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 1/30). SCHIP is set to expire on March 31. Under the bill, children in families with incomes of up to three times the federal poverty level would qualify for the program. The measure would exempt New Jersey and New York state from those income eligibility requirements and would allow the states to expand coverage to children in higher-income families. The bill also would eliminate a five-year waiting period for documented immigrant children and pregnant women to become eligible for the program (Freking, AP/Houston Chronicle, 1/29).
The measure, which would increase SCHIP spending by $32.8 billion over the four-and-a-half-year period, would be funded by a 62-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/29). CBO estimates that the bill would provide coverage for the additional four million children by 2013, while continuing coverage for seven million children already in the program.
No Senate Democrats voted against the bill, and nine Republicans voted in favor of the legislation (Pear, New York Times, 1/30). The bill now moves to the House. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that because the House and Senate versions of the bill are so similar, the House would clear the Senate bill and send it to President Obama without holding a conference on the legislation (CQ Today, 1/29). The Senate bill does not include a provision included in the House version that would have prevented new physician-owned hospitals from opening (AP/Houston Chronicle, 1/29).
Senators adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that would eliminate a requirement that parents provide a signature on official government forms when enrolling them through a process known as the "Express Lane." Several amendments proposed by Republicans were voted down, including language that would have given funding priority to states with a higher percentage of uninsured residents; eliminated all existing federal exemptions for states that cover families with incomes greater than 300% of the federal poverty level; and allowed states to provide premium assistance for purchasing private coverage to families with incomes greater than the current SCHIP eligibility limit of two times the poverty level (CQ Today, 1/29).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "When President Obama signs this bill, the real victory will belong not to politicians, but to kids" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 1/29). Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, "It's my sincere hope that passage of this legislation will be the beginning of a major overhaul of American health care, which ultimately will provide coverage to all Americans."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, "Some of us who look at this bill may view it as another effort to eliminate, over time, private insurance in America, and I am concerned about that" (New York Times, 1/30). Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "To start out the year on this note does not bode well for future health care discussions, including health reform" (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 1/30). Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "We know the rest of the year in health care, we've got big things ahead of us. Four million uninsured Americans down, but 42 million uninsured Americans to go. That won't be an easy task." He said, "Think of (this debate) as laying the groundwork for a lot of debate we're going to have," adding, "Basic questions: Do we want government-run solutions? Is growing our government bureaucracy in the area of health care the pathway to covering all Americans?" (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 1/30).