President-elect Barack Obama got an early win on child health care Wednesday.
The House voted to expand a government-funded state health insurance program to cover an additional four million children.
The Senate must now approve the bill and the Senate Finance Committee will take up a similar measure today with action expected next week.
The House version provides an additional $32.3 billion for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that should cover the next 4.5 years. Money to fund the program comes from a $1 tax on a pack of cigarettes up from 60 cents.
The bill passed by 289 votes to 139.
SCHIP is proposed to provide health care to 11 million children altogether. In October, a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that in many middle and lower-class American households the parents have health insurance and the children do not.
More than nine million U.S. kids are going without coverage and double that number have coverage gaps during some time over the course of a year. A lack of coverage also impacts access to prescription medication, preventive care, and necessary vaccines.
SCHIP came before President Bush twice in 2007 and both times he vetoed an expansion, funding it until this year.
SCHIP allows families to provide low-cost medical coverage for children so they don’t have to go to the emergency room for basic medical care. It is intended for children without private insurance whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid.
This version of SCHIP will allow children of legal immigrant and pregnant immigrants to be covered. The states must also cover dental. That may be a point of debate in the next round. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) says that new immigrants are not supposed to become a financial burden on taxpayers, according to a 100-year-old law.
"I feel very strongly that if you sign a contract with the government that brings people over here and you promise that they're not going to cost the taxpayers anything, you ought to keep your word to the taxpayers," Grassley said to the Washington Post.
Just who else should qualify has been a stumbling block.
Should it be at the poverty level or just above it? The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the majority – 83 percent – of the 4.1 uninsured children who could be covered, come from families who fall under the eligibility limits of twice the federal poverty level of $42,400 for a family of four.
Some states have opted to extend coverage to people with incomes up to $63,600 - three times the federal poverty level.
Opponents said that people on the edge of eligibility will move from employer funded private insurance to government-funded care.
Mr. Obama had promised as a candidate to provide health coverage to every child and on Wednesday he sent a message to the Senate to pass its version so it could become one of the first measures of his new administration which begins January 20. #