CHN: SCHIP Extended Until 2009
Despite broad public and Congressional support, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was not reauthorized this year. Instead, Congress passed a bill, the Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 (S. 2499) that will, among other things, extend SCHIP until March 31, 2009. S. 2499 provides sufficient funding so states can continue covering the current 6 million children enrolled in the program. The bill passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on December 18; the next day the House approved the measure 411-3. President Bush is expected to sign S. 2499. Twice this year he vetoed SCHIP reauthorization bills that had bipartisan support and would have expanded the program to cover more children.
A matter of great concern to the advocacy community and to Members in Congress that was not addressed in the extension bill relates to an August 17 directive issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The directive effectively caps eligibility for SCHIP at 250% of the federal poverty line, which is $42,925 a year for a family of three in 2007. This directive dramatically changes the nature of the SCHIP program, which in its 10 years of existence has never had an income restriction. It will also have a negative impact on children’s coverage. A new report issued by the Center for Children and Families finds that by August 2008, 23 states will be affected by the directive. Four states have already had to scale back or halt their coverage plans. If not addressed, thousands of children are likely to lose coverage. (See: http://ccf.georgetown.edu/pdfs/movingbackward1212.pdf)
There is support in Congress to revoke the measure. On December 14, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) sent a letter to the Finance Committee and Senate leaders, which was signed by more than a dozen other Senators, urging that Congress make it a priority to repeal the directive. This issue will surely be a priority for advocates in 2008.
Advocates are deeply disappointed by these results. They hoped a reauthorization bill would have been enacted that would have strengthened and expanded SCHIP to cover millions more children, given the popularity of the program and the broad bipartisan support in Congress. The bills Congress passed and sent to the President for his signature would have added $35 billion to the program over 5 years and provided health insurance to 10 million children. However, the President and a small group of Republicans who aligned with him squandered these hopes and successfully blocked any efforts to improve the program this year. The Democratic leadership has pledged to continue pushing in 2008 until a bill is enacted. The House has scheduled a vote on overriding the President’s second veto for January 23, the same week as the State of the Union address.