House to take up children's insurance

By: By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer
By: By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Pregnant immigrants and the children of legal
immigrants would get health coverage under legislation the House is
considering as part of an expansion of a children's health
insurance program.

The House was expected to overwhelmingly approve the measure on
Wednesday. Less certain was whether the Senate would go along with
all the provisions in the House bill.

Legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance
Program was vetoed twice by President George W. Bush in 2007. This
time around, supporters are confident that a deal can be struck and
the bill passed shortly after President-elect Barack Obama's
inauguration.

Under the House measure, supporters say about 400,000 to 600,000
children would be added to the SCHIP and Medicaid programs if all
states opted to cover children of legal immigrants and pregnant
legal immigrants.

Current law requires a five-year waiting period before legal
immigrants become eligible for coverage under the two programs.

Supporters say expanding coverage would mean children could get
treatment for acute conditions like asthma and diabetes so they
were less likely to need care in an emergency room.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., opposes lifting the five-year waiting
period, saying it violates a pledge by the immigrant sponsors that
the people coming to the United States will not be dependent on
government assistance.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, said there should be an exception for
children.

"That is the contract they sign on, but on the other hand, we
are talking about children here. Parents sign that contract,"
Green said. "We should be able to make that distinction."

"Obama supports it, and supports providing health care for our
children," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an
interview broadcast Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"It's a shared value that we have in a bipartisan way in the
Congress."

"At a time of economic crisis, nothing could be more essential
than ensuring that the children of hardworking families receive the
quality care they deserve," in a statement.

The bill includes an additional $33 billion for SCHIP over the
next 4½ years. The additional money would increase enrollment from
about 6.7 million to nearly 11 million, lawmakers said.

The money to pay for the expansion would come through a 61-cent
increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes. Other tobacco products
would be hit with comparable increases. The increase would boost
the federal excise tax on cigarettes to $1 a pack.

SCHIP was created in 1997 to provide health coverage for
children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid,
but not enough to afford private insurance.

Some Republicans say expanding the program undermines its
original intent - to serve the neediest children first.

"Without strict limits on who is eligible for the program, the
ability of disadvantaged children to access this program will be
jeopardized," said Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for House
Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

The Senate will to take up children's health legislation later
this week, beginning in the Senate Finance Committee. It has not
been determined when the full Senate will consider the measure.

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Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this
report.
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On the Net:
State Children's Health Insurance Program:
http://www.cms.hhs.gov/home/schip.asp

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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