The U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Expand Health Care Coverage for Children

On January 13, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 289-139 to expand health care coverage to 4 million children of working families through the government-sponsored State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). 

The bill will foot the $32.3 billion cost of expanding SCHIP for 4 1/2 years by increasing federal taxes on cigarettes by $0.61-$1.00 per pack. 

Departing President George W. Bush vetoed similar legislation twice in 2007.

Obama hopes that the U.S. Senate acts with the “same sense of urgency so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am president. … 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.”

The Congressional Budget Office projected that nearly 83 percent of the 4.1 million uninsured children who would gain coverage if the bill becomes law are in families with incomes below current eligibility limits. About 700,000 children would gain coverage because their states broadened eligibility. The measure passed by the House included a provision that would expand coverage to children of legal immigrants as well as pregnant immigrants.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to begin focusing on the matter on January 14, 2009.

Opponents suggested that the tobacco tax increase would not keep pace with rising health care costs; particularly as the number of smokers is decreasing and is likely to decrease further as a result of the tax increase.  Ultimately, these critics suggest, the government will have to cut children’s health care, recruit new smokers, or raise taxes.

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