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Lawmakers Move Ahead With SCHIP Legislation

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The Senate Finance Committee will mark up a State Children’s Health Insurance Plan reauthorization bill next week, according to Sen. Max Baucus.

The SCHIP program’s current authorization is set to expire Sept. 30.

Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and other committee members say they have agreed on a framework for SCHIP expansion that calls for spending $35 billion on the program over the next 5 years.

Committee members want to pay for SCHIP expansion by increasing the 39-cent federal cigarette tax to $1 per pack.

Earlier this year, Democratic congressional leaders won passage of a budget resolution recommending a $50 billion increase in SCHIP funding.

Members of the House hope to vote on their own SCHIP bill later this month.

Some Democrats in the House want to come up with more funding for SCHIP by cutting funding for the Medicare Advantage program, a program that encourages private insurers to offer private, subsidized health maintenance organization, preferred provider organization, and fee-for-service plans to Medicare beneficiaries.

The current SCHIP program costs about $5 billion per year.

President Bush supports increasing SCHIP funding by $5 billion to $7 billion over 5 years. He also wants to tighten the focus of SCHIP to emphasize coverage for low-income and moderate-income children, rather than letting states use SCHIP money to cover low-income adults and higher-income children.

Otherwise, SCHIP could encourage people who now have private health coverage to move into government plans, Bush says.

“Instead of encouraging people to drop private coverage for government programs, the president believes we should work to make basic private health insurance affordable for all Americans,” White House officials say in a fact sheet. “The best way to do this is by reforming the tax code to level the playing field, so those who buy health insurance on their own get the same tax advantage as those who get health insurance through their jobs.”

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, supports SCHIP expansion but opposes cuts in Medicare Advantage funding.

“We don’t think it is a fair trade-off to take money away from 8 million seniors to support a massive expansion of the SCHIP,” AHIP spokesman Mohit Ghose says. “We do not believe that seniors and MA plans should lose benefits and have to pay higher out-of-pocket costs in order to provide funding for SCHIP.”


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