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Kennedy Hedges on Money for Full SCHIP Expansion This Year

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

February 26, 2007 -- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said Monday that Congress ought to be able to come up with the $50 billion he estimated is needed over five years to cover all children eligible for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), but he hedged on whether it would do so this year or over the next several years.

In remarks delivered at a forum sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform, Kennedy said the issue is whether Congress will have the will this year to move forward to enroll all of those eligible or slip back from the current enrollment level of six million children.

"We'll have to see . . . what we're able to do," Kennedy said after the speech. Although Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has said he intends to earmark funds in the fiscal 2008 budget resolution that would go beyond current enrollment levels, it is unclear how much more money he will be seeking.

"Let's be honest about it, we have a lot of budget problems out there," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, who also spoke at the event. Financing an expansion of current enrollment is a valid idea but also is "a real fiscal concern," Hatch said. However, Hatch did say that he hopes Congress will provide funds to cover more uninsured children.

Kennedy and Hatch were instrumental in efforts to create SCHIP as part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. The legislation expires at the end of this year. Both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee are planning to mark up legislation reauthorizing the program in late spring, congressional aides said.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, D-Mich., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., are planning to introduce legislation sometime this month that would increase coverage of uninsured children, but details haven't been resolved, said Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Dingell.

Congress faces difficulty finding funds to pay for expanded SCHIP enrollment, but cuts in Medicare payments to managed care plans may be one possible source of money.

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