UPDATE 1/30/09: The Senate passed SCIP 66-32 today including the provisions to grant access to children of legal immigrants. The bill is expected to be on the presidentâs desk sometime next week.
Last week, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a four-and-a-half year reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), extending health coverage to an additional 4 million children to provide health insurance to a total of more than 11 million children. The bill provides $34 billion in SCHIP funding and allows states to cover children and families with income up to 300 percent of the poverty level. The House bill also allows the states to waive the five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women to enroll in SCHIP, providing access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and treatment for chronic health problems.
Similar bills passed both houses of Congress in 2007, but they were vetoed by President Bush, leaving the program operating under a temporary, one-year extension. It is long overdue for Congress to provide health care to the nation's neediest children. Since SCHIP was enacted in 1997, it has, in combination with Medicaid, succeeded in reducing the number of uninsured children by one-third despite rising health care costs and declines in employer-based coverage. But, with 9 million children still lacking health insurance and unable to access the care they need, it is clear that more needs to be done.
During this time of economic crisis, in which American families are plagued by rising unemployment and increasing health care costs, the Senate must now act quickly to reauthorize the program to increase both the number of children served by SCHIP, improve the quality of coverage they receive, and provide long-term, dedicated funding to this critical program.