Congress Set to Renew Health Care for Children
By ROBERT PEAR
Published: January 12, 2009
WASHINGTON ― Congress is poised to give President-elect Barack Obama a quick victory by passing a bill to provide health insurance to millions of low-income children.
The House Democratic leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said the bill, scheduled for a vote in the House this week, was “very much like” legislation twice vetoed by President Bush in 2007. Legal authority for the program expires on March 31.
Congressional Democrats said they had decided to add a major provision allowing states to restore health insurance benefits to legal immigrants under 21, a goal of Hispanic groups since those benefits were terminated in 1996.
This part of the bill deals only with legal immigrants. But it could revive the emotional debate over immigration, as many Republicans want to establish stricter verification procedures to prevent illegal immigrants from getting health benefits.
Under current law, legal immigrants are generally barred from Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program for five years after they enter the United States. The Democrats’ proposal would give states the option of covering children and pregnant women, with the federal government subsidizing the costs as usual under both programs.
Supporters of the bill said it would cover 10 million children, providing benefits for nearly 4 million who are uninsured, while continuing coverage for 6.6 million youngsters already enrolled. The federal government now spends more than $5 billion a year on the program, and while precise figures are not yet available, the expansion would more than double that cost.
Experts estimate that 400,000 to 600,000 immigrant children affected by the restrictions could get insurance under the bill.
“Children should not be forced to wait five years for health care,” said Jennifer M. Ng’andu, a health policy specialist at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic rights group. “Five years is a lifetime to a child.”
Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip, said Republicans had concerns about expanding the program, to immigrants or any other group, before the original purpose of the program was achieved.
“The program has not fulfilled its initial mission, to serve children of the working poor,” Mr. Cantor said in an interview.
Among children, legal immigrants are less likely than citizens to receive immunizations and routine dental care. Likewise, among women, legal immigrants are less likely to receive prenatal care.
Leighton C. Ku, a professor of health policy at George Washington University, said the five-year wait had harmed children who would become citizens. “About half of all low-income immigrant children are now uninsured,” Mr. Ku said. “Most immigrant children become U.S. citizens. When they grow up, they make contributions to the economy, pay taxes and serve in the military.”
Aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi briefed advocacy groups on their plans on Friday.
“There were cheers in the room,” Ms. Ng’andu said. “It was a joyous moment when we learned that legal immigrant children would be covered.”
House Democrats are taking their bill directly to the floor, but in the Senate, Democratic leaders plan to work through the Finance Committee, led by Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana. Mr. Baucus has drafted a bill similar to the House measure. As of late Monday, his proposal did not include benefits for immigrants.
But other Democratic senators, like Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, have said that they, like Mr. Obama, want to allow states to cover children who are legal immigrants.
The new bills, like those vetoed, would be financed by tobacco taxes, including a 61-cent cigarette tax increase, to $1 a pack.
Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009
House widens US child health care
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ( right) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speak about SCHIP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the US could well afford the programme
The House of Representatives has voted to expand US government-funded health insurance to cover an additional four million children.
President-elect Barack Obama, who has promised wider access to medical insurance, urged the Senate to act so he could sign the bill into law soon.
The legislation is similar to bills vetoed by President George W Bush.
Tobacco taxes will be increased to pay for the programme, which currently insures some seven million children.
The bill was passed by 289 votes to 139 in the House of Representatives.
The legislation extends coverage provided under the State Children's Health Insurance Programme (SCHIP), which is administered jointly by the federal and state governments, to four million currently uninsured children.
It provides $32.3bn (£22.1bn) over four-and-a-half years to continue health coverage for seven million children who currently rely on the scheme.
"In this moment of crisis, ensuring that every child in America has access to affordable health care is not just good economic policy, but a moral obligation we hold as parents and citizens," Mr Obama said in a statement.
Mr Obama said he hoped the Senate would pass its version of the legislation quickly so that it could be one of the first measures he signed into law after taking office on 20 January.
President George W Bush (file picture)
Outgoing President Bush George Bush vetoed similar legislation
The legislation would raise federal taxes on tobacco taxes, including an increase of 61 cents in the tax on cigarettes to $1 a pack.
Opponents of the bill argue that it would move more than two million children who currently get private insurance through their parents' employers into government-funded care.
"The priority of SCHIP should always be to serve those children most in need of assistance, not subsidise those who already have access to private insurance," said Republican Congressman Darrell Issa.
They also say the additional spending will run up big bills for the future.
"The kids will have to pay through the nose for the things we are doing today," said Republican Congressman Dan Burton. "We don't have the money to do all these things."
"Forty days in Iraq equals over 10 million children in America insured for one year. We certainly can afford to do that," said House Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Most of the children who qualify for coverage are in families whose income is well under $42,400 - which is twice the federal poverty level for a family of four. Some US states have expanded their programmes to cover families with incomes up to $63,600 or three times the poverty level.
"At a time of rising unemployment, this legislation is more important than ever," said Democratic Congressman Mike McMahon.
People often lose their health insurance when they lose their jobs.
|<< 前記事(2009/01/14)||ブログのトップへ||後記事(2009/01/15) >>|
|<< 前記事(2009/01/14)||ブログのトップへ||後記事(2009/01/15) >>|