Washington–The House early this afternoon approved final passage of legislation reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan.

President Barack Obama is set to sign the bill later in the day.

The final bill, H.R. 2, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, was approved by an overwhelming vote of 290-135.

The bill authorizes expenditure of $31.5 billion over 4 1/2 years to expand coverage under the current program to 11 million from 7.4 million.

The final bill was slightly smaller than the one passed by the House Jan. 14.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last Thursday that the House would accept the abridged version passed by the Senate immediately after the Senate approved what turned out to be the final bill, 66-32.

Authorization for the current program would have run out March 31.

The new Congress revived the expanded bill after President Bush vetoed it last year. After the veto, Congress agreed to the short extension, fully aware that a new President and an expanded Democratic majority in the Congress would allow them to expand the program despite the objections of conservatives in Congress.

“What a difference a President makes,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., after the vote. “President Obama and Congress are demonstrating that change has come to Washington, and we are moving forward to improve the quality of life for American families struggling during these hard times.”

The original House bill would have added an additional 400,000 children to the program and also provide additional benefits, such as dental care and mental health parity, according to analysts at Washington Analysis. The House bill would have cost an additional $400 million over 4 1/2 years.

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

The provision was added to the House bill because some lawmakers are concerned that physicians’ practice of self-referral to hospitals where they have vested interests leads to unnecessary procedures that raise healthcare costs.

The health insurance industry is a strong supporter of reauthorization.

In a statement, Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said after the Senate vote, “Strengthening the health care safety net is an essential component of comprehensive health care reform.”

Republicans objected to several provisions of the measure. Their alternative 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.

It would have also retained the 5-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women to gain SCHIP coverage that is part of the current program.

The coverage delay would have reduced the cost of the new program by about $1.3 billion over 5 years and would have allowed about 300,000 more children to participate in SCHIP after that period. Eighteen states incur the cost of health coverage for children of new legal immigrants, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

Most of the cost of the new would be financed by raising the federal tobacco tax by $0.61, to $1. Other tobacco products will be hit with higher taxes, too. The tax increase will be comparable for chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco but will be steeper for roll-your-own tobacco and some cigars.