SCHIP Bill May Lift Eligibility Restrictions In Federal Health Care Programs

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Congress this week is preparing to vote on SCHIP renewal and expansion legislation that would allow about four million additional children to be eligible for the program, the New York Times reports. The bill, scheduled for vote this week in the House, is "very much like" the legislation vetoed by President Bush in 2007, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.

Under the bill, SCHIP would provide health benefits for about 10 million children, compared with the more than six million under the current charter. While the exact cost of the expansion is not clear, it is expected to "more than double" the over $5 billion annual cost of the program for the federal government, the Times reports. The bill would be funded by a 61-cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. The current SCHIP charter is set to expire March 31 (Pear, New York Times, 1/13).

According to the Times' "The Caucus," "Given its strong support in both parties, approval of the measure is a lock." Hoyer said the legislation is even more important than in 2007, given the ongoing economic recession. He said, "Obviously we all know that one of the aspects of losing a job is, in many instances, losing your health insurance as well. We are very concerned that we will have a lot of children vulnerable in America" (Hulse, "The Caucus," New York Times, 1/12).

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The measure would repeal a rule barring documented immigrants from receiving federal health benefits during their first five years in the U.S. The rule originally was written into a 1996 law overhauling the nation's welfare programs and Medicaid and was expanded to include SCHIP when the program was created in 1997 (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 1/13). The provision would give states the option of covering documented immigrant pregnant women and children under Medicaid and SCHIP (New York Times, 1/13).

The measure would repeal a rule barring documented immigrants from receiving federal health benefits during their first five years in the U.S. The rule originally was written into a 1996 law overhauling the nation's welfare programs and Medicaid and was expanded to include SCHIP when the program was created in 1997 (Wall Street Journal, 1/13). President-elect Barack Obama, who is expected to sign the bill, has expressed his support for repealing the provision. According to the Times, experts say between 400,000 and 600,000 documented immigrant children could gain access to coverage under the bill (New York Times, 1/13).

Two House legislative aides said the House version of the bill will give states the choice of whether to include these immigrants in their SCHIP program. However, it is not clear whether a repeal of the ban will be included in a Senate version being prepared by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.). According to the Wall Street Journal, Baucus has said he wants to repeal the ban but it is unclear whether he will include a repeal in the bill he presents to the Finance Committee (Wall Street Journal, 1/13).

As of Monday, Baucus had not included the provision (New York Times, 1/13). The Baucus version is expected to be introduced to the Finance Committee this week, with a vote "soon after," according to the Journal. Some Republican senators at a meeting last week expressed concerns about repealing the ban but did not say that it would cause them to vote against the bill, according to people familiar with the issue. However, Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who supports upholding the ban, said that adding the provision to the final bill would make it "difficult for many Republicans to support final passage." According to the Journal, some Republican lawmakers already oppose the SCHIP bill regardless of the ban (Wall Street Journal, 1/13).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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