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Senate Panel Approves Renewal of Health Insurance for Children

By Timothy R. Homan, CQ Staff

July 19, 2007 – The Senate Finance Committee approved a $60 billion children's health insurance bill Thursday, endorsing a bipartisan deal among the panel's members and defying a presidential veto threat.

Bill supporters said the measure, approved 17–4, would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover nearly 10 million uninsured children. The reauthorization would cover children in households with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line.

The five-year, $60 billion bill would be funded by a 61-cent-a-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes and increased taxes on other tobacco products. The increase would bring the federal cigarette tax to $1 per pack.

Renewal of the program, set to expire at the end of September, would continue coverage for the 6.6 million children now enrolled in the program while adding 3.2 million.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 800,000 people would lose coverage without the increase in funding.

"It's obscene that millions of kids go to bed at night without decent health care," said Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon.

The White House wants a $5 billion expansion of the program, to $30 billion over five years, and has threatened to veto the $35 billion Senate increase.

The veto threat has drawn criticism from senior Finance Republicans, including ranking GOP member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

At a news conference after the markup, Grassley said the White House should recognize that the committee's bill "is good policy."

The program, which received $5 billion in fiscal 2007, provides health coverage to low-income, uninsured children whose parents do not qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private coverage on their own. If states cover children in households with incomes above the 300 percent threshold, they would qualify for lower Medicaid matching payments under the bill.

It also covers certain adults, which has drawn opposition from some Republicans and from the White House, although the Bush administration has approved waivers that allow states to cover adults. The Finance Committee bill would phase out that practice by the end of 2009.

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