Health Insurance News
JANUARY 24, 2009 --
Editorial: Health Insurance --
Even before taking the oath of office, President-elect Barack Obama has gotten traction on his agenda to expand health insurance to all Americans - starting with children.
The U.S. House voted with impressive bipartisan backing to boost spending for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The $32.3 billion, 41/2-year program will be covered by tobacco taxes, including a 61-cent hike on cigarette packs, to $1.
With 40 Republicans joining Democrats in the majority, lawmakers reauthorized the child health program until 2013. Beyond the seven million children from low-income families already in the program, an additional 4.1 million children under 18 who are uninsured could sign up. In a key reform, more legal immigrants' children would be covered.
In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, more than 250,000 children would be able to receive health care under the program. No wonder U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) - who pioneered children's insurance programs while a legislator in Harrisburg - said on the House floor that "today is a good day for American families."
Now it's up to the Senate to follow suit and approve a companion bill to the House measure. That seems entirely likely, inasmuch as Congress twice in 2007 voted to expand SCHIP - only to have both attempts vetoed by President Bush, who objected to the increased cost.
Landing this bill on Obama's desk soon would be an important early win for the administration, and also would bode well for more comprehensive health-care reform to follow.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey are poised to make the most of an expansion of the children's insurance program. Both Govs. Rendell and Corzine have worked hard to get more kids insurance, even while Bush policies worked against them.
Rendell's Cover All Kids plan last year ran up against a Bush directive that limited states in providing children's insurance. As Corzine noted Thursday, New Jersey's charity-care costs grew in caring for the state's sizable number of legal immigrant children who, until now, had to live in the country five years before enrolling in SCHIP.
By taxing tobacco for the expansion, Congress has answered critics on the cost - for now. Additional tax hikes may be needed if the program's cost increases. With unemployment rising and the economic turmoil threatening millions of workers' health insurance, though, the boost in SCHIP should be viewed in the larger context of the nation's economic rescue and recovery efforts.
In other words, it's a good investment in stabilizing families and helping to assure that America's neediest kids have a healthy future