The reauthorization for the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) passed the U.S. House of Representatives today, 289-139. While it was a strong bipartisan vote, the split in the California delegation was stark, with support all Democrats and only Republican Mary Bono Mack. All other Republicans voted against it. (Democratic Representative Hilda Solis, Labor secretary-designate, did not vote.)
This is a major boon for the 900,000 children on California’s version of the program, Healthy Families, as well as many more children who are still eligible but not enrolled. By raising $32.3 billion with an increase in the federal tobacco tax, the bill extends SCHIP for 4.5 years, provides health coverage for 4.1 million additional children nationally.
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider the bill in committee tomorrow, and the hope is that a final package is available for President Obama’s signature by his first week after his inauguration. Unlike President Bush, who twice vetoed similar child coverage proprosals despite overwhelming bipartisan support, President Obama is likely to make this his first legislative victory.
California has a strong interest in a key policy provision: the House version would eliminate an arbitrary provision prohibiting federal matching funds for the first five years legal immigrant children are in the U.S. California, which covers these children, loses millions of dollars because of this current policy, and would benefit from the change. This important provision needs to stay in the bill: children cannot wait five years for coverage.
(Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic has an excellent write-up of the politics and policy of this provision.)
Even if SCHIP passes, and provides the 2-1 match from the federal government, then it will be up to state leaders to continue to fully fund the program to the point where we can cover all California’s children. If not, then our funds will be directed to other states.