House passes SCHIP expansion; Senate to act soon
New SCHIP bill could give four million uninsured children health insurance coverage. Image Source:  
The House of Representatives this week voted 289-139 to approve a bill renewing and expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to about four million additional children in the United States.

Under the expansion, children in families with incomes of up to three times the federal poverty level would qualify for the program. SCHIP's current authorization expires March 31, reported the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report.

The total cost of SCHIP is projected at $32.3 billion from 2009 to 2013, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, and would almost be completely funded by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. Additional money would come from blocking Medicare and Medicaid funds to physician-owned hospitals opened or expanded after Jan. 1 of this year.

The bill also includes a provision that would allow states to waive the federally mandated five-year waiting period for documented immigrants seeking to receive public benefits in the case of children and pregnant women. Supporters of the provision say about 400,000 to 600,000 children would be added to SCHIP if all states choose to cover children of documented immigrants and pregnant documented immigrants, according to Kaiser.

The Senate Finance Committee began their mark up on a similar bill late this week, which does not include the waiver for immigrant pregnant women and children.

SCHIP expansions have been vetoed twice by President Bush, but President-elect Barack Obama has promised to sign an SCHIP bill early in his presidency.