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Senate Sends SCHIP Bill To White House

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Members of the Senate voted 68-31 Thursday to pass a bill that would increase funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $25 billion, or an average of $5 billion per year, over 5 years.

The bill, which took the form of an amendment to H.R. 976, the Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2007, would come up with the cash for the SCHIP funding increase by increasing federal tobacco taxes.

The bill would increase total program funding to $50 billion over 5 years.

The SCHIP authorization bill is set to expire Sept. 30. The program now receives $5 billion in funding per year.

Members of the House have approved a bill that would increase funding by a total of $35 billion over 5 years, to a total of $60 billion, by raising tobacco taxes and reallocating some money now set to go to the Medicare Advantage program.

President Bush is supporting efforts to increase SCHIP spending to an average of $6 billion per year, or $30 billion over 5 years. and has threatened to threaten to veto both the House and Senate SCHIP bills.

Supporters of the House or Senate SCHIP bills would need 67 votes to overturn a veto if all 100 senators cast votes, and they would need 66 votes if a senator were absent. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who is recovering from a stroke, has been absent from all Senate votes this year.

The list of the senators who voted for the Senate SCHIP bill includes 18 Republicans, and, in theory, some who voted for the bill Thursday could vote against it or abstain if the president vetoes the bill.

White House officials and others have argued that states are using waivers of SCHIP rules to use SCHIP funds to cover too many childless adults.

Both the House and the Senate reauthorization bills would let states crowd out private health coverage without doing enough to make states provide coverage for the many low-income children who continue to be uninsured, critics of the bills contend.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, and the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., have criticized the provisions in the House SCHIP bill that would shift Medicare Advantage funding to SCHIP.

But AHIP has welcomed passage of the Senate SCHIP bill.

“The Senate came together in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize SCHIP without putting at risk the health security of the more than 8 million seniors who depend on Medicare Advantage,” AHIP says in a statement about the Senate vote.