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Senate Gives General Support For SCHIP

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The Senate says it wants to keep the State Children’s Health Insurance Program alive.

Members of the Senate agreed Thursday by a voice vote that they want to reauthorize SCHIP.

The Senate held the vote while working the budget resolution, a document that is supposed to guide Congress when it starts detailed budget deliberations later this year.

Although the budget resolution does not directly affect appropriations, Senate rules let appropriations bills that follow budget resolution guidelines pass the Senate via majority votes.

Under regular order, a bill needs 60 votes to get through the Senate without running the risk of facing a filibuster.

At press time, the Senate was hoping to finish work on the budget resolution today.

One controversy is about whether states should be able to use SCHIP funds to cover pregnant women, parents, low-income adults without children, or other groups of adults.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the most senior Republican on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pension Committee, said today at a forum organized by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, that Congress should make sure every child from a family with an income under 200% of the federal poverty level is enrolled in SCHIP or a similar program before letting states use SCHIP money to cover adults.

“It is important to note here that the federal dollars in the budget baseline allocated for the CHIP program over the next 10 years will not even cover current CHIP beneficiaries,” Hatch said.

The current budget baseline assumes the government will spend $50 billion on SCHIP over the next 10 years, and President Bush has budgeted an additional $15 billion in SCHIP spending, Hatch said.

The Senate has created a reserve fund that could provide up to $35 billion more for SCHIP, but that money has only been authorized, not appropriated, Hatch said.

Meanwhile, today, some states spend more SCHIP funds on adults than on children, Hatch said, even though there are still about 5.5 million uninsured children from families that appear to be eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP coverage, Hatch says.

“When we enacted CHIP, we never envisioned that adults would be covered,” Hatch said.

But Hatch said Congress also has to look for ways to provide coverage for low-income adults.

“In a country as wealthy as ours, it is unconscionable that over 40 million people go without health insurance each year,” Hatch said.


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