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Health Care for More Kids

Children's health-care insurance bill passes the Senate

By Laura Leigh Davidson | February 3 , 2009

About 9 million American kids are growing up in families that do not have health insurance. But it appears that help is on the way for many families that do not have the money to pay for doctors or medicine.

Last week, the Senate passed a bill that will expand a U.S. government program that provides children's health insurance coverage for families who can't afford it.

The bill is called SCHIP, or State Children's Health Insurance Program. The program provides insurance to children in families that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid coverage, but not enough to afford private insurance.

More than 7 million kids received health care insurance from an older version of SCHIP during 2008. This new version of the bill extends that coverage to an additional 4 million kids.
 
SCHIP is an important piece of President Barack Obama's plan to reform health care overall.
 
"Providing health care to more than 10 million children through the Children's Health Insurance Program will serve as a down payment on my commitment to ensure that every American has access to quality, affordable health care," President Obama said in a statement.

The program will be funded by an increase in the federal tax on cigarettes, from 39 cents to $1 a pack. This tax increase will generate $32 billion to finance expansion of the program.

States have different eligibility rules for the program. But in most states, uninsured children below the age of 19, whose families earn up to $44,100 a year (for a family of four) would be eligible under the Senate bill.

This insurance pays for doctor visits, immunizations, illnesses that require a stay in the hospital, and emergency room visits.

Although there was some support for expanding SCHIP from Republicans, many of them have proposed amendments to limit the program. Republicans generally believe the government should have a very limited role in health care. But because Democrats now hold a majority in the Senate, they were able to defeat amendments to the bill.

But even with the expansion of SCHIP, about 5 million children will still be uninsured.

During his election campaign, Obama called for requiring all children to have health coverage. SCHIP may prove a strong step in that direction. The House of Representatives still needs to pass the bill before it can go to President Obama for his signature.

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