The Senate passed its version of legislation to renew the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Thursday, bringing the bill very close to its long overdue White House signing ceremony. The new bill is expected to cover an additional 4.1 million uninsured children by 2013.
Most importantly, the new bill – like the old ones vetoed by President Bush – gives states new funding to sustain and strengthen their SCHIP programs. This will occur just in time, as families hit by the economic downturn look for affordable coverage options. It also gives states new tools to reach already-eligible, uninsured children and provides them with performance-based incentives to enroll them.
I’m thrilled about this bill. Not because I think it will solve everything, but because it will offer concrete help to many kids who need it now and can’t wait until we figure out comprehensive health reform.
It is fair to say, however, that not everyone shares my joy.
The Senate debate over the bill turned ugly, with Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) shouting across the Senate floor that Democrats were “ruining SCHIP.” It was a ridiculous charge, especially because the heart of the moving forward – indeed, nearly all of the details – were taken from a bipartisan package put together by Senators Max Baucus, Charles Grassley, Jay Rockefeller and Orrin Hatch.
The one new, notable provision in this bill is a state option to eliminate a 5-year waiting period for coverage now applied to legal immigrant children and pregnant women. While I understand some members don’t like the idea, it was added through a fair and open process during mark up in the Senate Finance Committee on a vote of 12 to 7. And, many of the Senators who now consider it a deal-breaker, have actually voted for it before when it was part of the Medicare Modernization Act. It wasn’t a deal-breaker then and shouldn’t be one now, when it comes to children’s coverage.
As for next steps, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that the House of Representatives will quickly pass the Senate version of the SCHIP legislation, eliminating the need for a conference committee. This means it will be on President Obama’s desk in the next week or two.
Jocelyn Guyer is the deputy executive director at the Center for
Children and Families (CCF) and a senior researcher at the Georgetown
University Health Policy Institute. This post represents her personal
opinion not that of the Institute.