Children's Health Insurance Program passes House, Obama signs
President Obama signed a bill yesterday reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
The House of Representatives passed the bill by a margin of 290-135 votes earlier Wednesday. It had already cleared the Senate.
SCHIP is designed to cover children from families who do not qualify for Medicaid, yet still can not afford private health insurance. The bill will provide coverage to an additional 4 million children over the next 4.5 years, and continue coverage for the 7 million children already insured under the program. A similar bill had been vetoed twice by former President George W. Bush.
Obama called it a "downpayment" on his promise to provide every American with health insurance, saying:
"It's a responsibility that's only grown more urgent as our economic crisis deepens, as health care costs have exploded and millions of working families are unable to afford health insurance. Today in America, 8 million children are still uninsured -- more than 45 million Americans altogether.
"And it's hard to overstate the toll this takes on families: the sleepless nights worrying about somebody getting hurt, or praying that a sick child gets better on her own; the decisions that no parent should ever have to make -- how long to put off that doctor's appointment, whether to fill that prescription, whether to let a child play outside, knowing that all it takes is one accident, one injury, to send your family into financial ruin."
The bill also lifts the ban on states providing health insurance, through SCHIP, to the children of legal immigrants.
Funding will come from a 62-cent-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes.
However, the US health care system continues to move towards crisis point, as more and more people are unable to afford health care. The issue is especially pressing now that people are losing jobs, and their health care along with it.
Employers in the US typically pay half of the monthly cost of employee health insurance. If an employee chooses to leave (or is forced to leave) a job, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) allows the employee to continue health insurance cover under their previous employer's group policy. But the employee incurs the entire cost, which can top US$300 for just an individual policy.
For people who have just lost their jobs, $300 monthly is more than most can afford. For these families, the SCHIP bill couldn't have come at a better time - especially since very few children would ever be able to take on the expense of private insurance on their own. But that still leaves millions of American adults uninsured.
Obama confronted that point with this remark:
"But, as I think everybody here will agree, this is only the first step. The way I see it, providing coverage to 11 million children through CHIP is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American. (Applause.) And it is just one component of a much broader effort to finally bring our health care system into the 21st century. And that's why the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that's now before Congress is so important.
"Now, think about this -- if Congress passes this recovery plan, in just one month, we will have done more to modernize our health care system than we've done in the past decade."
For information on the Senate's passing of the bill, see this article, by Terri Potratz.