This vote was on passing a bill to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program over 4.5 years. The SCHIP program – funded primarily through taxes on tobacco products -- helps low income families with children afford health insurance, and currently covers about 6 million kids.
The measure would allocate $60 billion for the program, which represents a $35 billion expansion. The bill would pay for the expanded spending by increasing the cigarette tax from $.61 cents to $1 per pack. It also would allow states to offer SCHIP coverage to pregnant women and the children of legal immigrants. It also would set limits on eligibility for the SCHIP program to families earning three times the poverty level or less. It also would require states to stop coverage of childless adults by October 2010.
This bill is a dramatic expansion of the SCHIP program and very similar to measures put forward by Democrats for the past few years that were repeatedly vetoed by President Bush. Emboldened by new Democratic majorities in Congress and President Obama’s election, Democrats decided to place this bill at the top of their agenda.
“This is a new day in Washington. 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. The bill we are considering today makes a down payment on that promise by putting the health and well-being of our children first,” said Frank Pallone, D-N.J. “This bill will make critical improvements to CHIP. There will be more resources for States to enroll eligible children. There will be better benefits. As a result, there will be 11 million children who will have access to the quality health coverage they need and deserve.”
Fiscal conservatives have traditionally bristled at such large raises in SCHIP, believing it is nothing more than an attempt to expand government-run health care. Progressives, on the other hand, see the program as vital to ensuring the health and well-being of low-income children achieved by taxing a social vice with severe health impacts (cigarette smoking).
Republicans complained that the bill would expand the program beyond the very poorest children to cover those who might otherwise be able to obtain health care on their own, and have suggested that it will cause people to flee from health care plans available through their employers to SCHIP. Republicans also suggested that the bill does not contain enough safeguards to ensure that illegal immigrants are not benefiting from SCHIP and in the process edging out a needy American child.
“Poor kids first, poor children first being served was the reason to have SCHIP, for children whose families couldn’t afford insurance. This bill doesn’t require the States to meet any kind of threshold standard that would ensure that States were doing everything they could to find kids who needed insurance before they begin to spend money to find kids who may not have the same need,” said Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
The House passed the bill by a vote of 289-139. All but two Democrats present voted for the bill. Of Republicans present, 40 voted for the bill and 137 voted against it. The end result is that the House passed a bill that would reauthorize and significantly expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.