Insurance groups are backing congressional efforts to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is set to expire March 31.

A reauthorization bill already has passed in the House.

Republicans have been trying to block the Senate version of the bill, but Senate members today voted 65-32 to reject Republican efforts to amend the bill.

The failed amendment would have increased the amount states are allowed to provide in premium assistance for the purchase of private insurance when children with private coverage enroll in SCHIP plans.

Senate leaders hope to bring the bill up for a final vote Thursday.

SCHIP provides health coverage for low-income and moderate-income children who do not qualify for coverage from Medicaid. Today, about 7 million children have SCHIP coverage.

The Senate and House SCHIP bills each would require about $32 billion in funding, and each would provide coverage for about 11 million kids. Each would let states accelerate efforts to cover legal immigrants and pregnant women.

Congress would pay for SCHIP expansion by increasing federal tobacco taxes. The House bill would generate additional revenue by putting restrictions on physician-owned specialty hospitals.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, is backing the SCHIP reauthorization bills.

“Our members enthusiastically support the reauthorization and expansion of SCHIP,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni writes in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

AHIP officials have been working with other stakeholder groups for more than 2 years to help build support for improvements to SCHIP, Ignagni writes.

“Our board has endorsed an access proposal that includes – as part of a comprehensive strategy for achieving universal coverage – a recommendation for a robust SCHIP expansion,” Ignagni writes.

AHIP and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Chicago, have joined a coalition of groups that includes AARP, Washington, and the American Medical Association, Chicago, that has sent Reid another letter supporting SCHIP reauthorization.

Conservatives say the House and Senate SCHIP bills fail to require states to cover the poorest kids before covering higher-income children. Critics also have raised questions about whether immediately covering legal immigrants who are not yet U.S. citizens would eventually lead to coverage of illegal aliens.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the Senate SCHIP bill is near identical to a bill the passed in the Senate in 2007 and later was vetoed by President George W. Bush.