By Mary Agnes Carey and Alex Wayne, CQ Staff
April 26, 2007 -- A bipartisan group of senators Thursday introduced legislation to reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover an additional six million children over the next decade.
The bill (S 1224), would allow states to provide coverage to children with family incomes at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level—up from the current 200 percent—as well as to pregnant women and legal immigrant children.
At a news conference Thursday, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said the bill would add up to $50 billion to the program over the next five years. He said he and cosponsor Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, had met with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to discuss the measure, which Rockefeller said would "in essence" be the Finance SCHIP bill.
"On our side, it's considered the first priority bill to pass," Rockefeller said, adding that a markup could be scheduled as early as May.
A Baucus aide said Thursday that "the committee will consider a Chairman's mark—including input from Sen. Rockefeller's legislation and from others—in late spring."
The program, created in 1997 and up for reauthorization this year, has been hailed for its success, but analysts say more must be done—through expansions and efforts to build greater public awareness—to cover the more than 9 million children who are currently uninsured. Financing such an expansion could prove difficult since Democrats have pledged to follow pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO rules, which require that spending be offset by spending cuts or tax increases.
Rockefeller and Snowe said that an increase in the federal cigarette tax or a reduction in Medicare Advantage payments could help pay for the bill. "Give me a chance to get my hands on some of that Medicare Advantage money, and I'll be there in a shot," Rockefeller said. "I think there are a lot of places we can go for money. This is a priority." Other Democrats as well have expressed an interest in reducing Medicare Advantage payments to fund other health care priorities.
Under the Rockefeller-Snowe measure, SCHIP funding formulas would be revised to account for factors such as rising health care costs, population growth, and an individual state's uninsured population, with the hope of avoiding annual shortfalls that many states experience. States would have two years to use their annual allotments or the money would be reinvested in the program.
To help speed SCHIP and Medicaid enrollment, states could use financial information from other means-tested programs, such as the federal food stamp program or school lunch programs to see if children are financially eligible.