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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

House To Take Up SCHIP Next Week

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The House plans to complete work on H.R. 2, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talked about the scheduling Thursday after members of the Senate voted 66-32 to approve the bill.

The Senate passed a slightly smaller version of the SCHIP reauthorization bill that the House approved Jan. 14.

Authorization for the current program is set to run out March 31.

The Senate version of H.R. 2 authorizes expenditure of $31.5 billion over 4.5 years, and it would try to expand SCHIP enrollment to 11 million, from 7.4 million.

The bill would fund most of the cost of SCHIP expansion by raising the federal tobacco tax by 61 cents, to $1. Other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco, also would be hit with higher taxes, and the increases would be steeper for roll-your-own tobacco and some cigars.

The House version of H.R. 2 passed in January would have sought to add 400,000 more children to the program and also would have provided additional benefits, such as dental care benefits and additional mental health care benefits, according to analysts at Washington Analysis, Washington. The House bill would have authorized $400 million in additional spending.

The extra cost would have been paid for by imposing restrictions on physician-owned specialty hospitals.

The provision was added to the House bill because some lawmakers say the hospitals create a conflict of interest, giving physicians an incentive to recommend unnecessary procedures.

The health insurance industry has been a strong supporter of SCHIP reauthorization.

“Strengthening the health care safety net is an essential component of comprehensive health care reform,” Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, said in a statement after the Senate vote. “This legislation gives children access to essential health care services and eases the burden on working families who are struggling during the slowing economy.”

Ignagni asked policymakers to “build on this momentum and pursue health care reform that gives every American access to high-quality, affordable health care coverage.”

President Obama is expected to sign the bill promptly once it reaches his desk.

A Republican proposal would have increased the amount states are allowed to provide in premium assistance for the purchase of private insurance, a tactic to prevent “crowd out,” when children or families with private coverage switch to a public program.

The Republican proposal also would have retained the current 5-year SCHIP enrollment waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women.

The 5-year coverage delay would have reduced the cost of the new program by about $1.3 billion over 5 years and would allow about 300,000 more children to participate in SCHIP after that period, proposal supporters say. Today, 18 states incur the cost of health coverage for children of new legal immigrants, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington.


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