The Senate Finance Committee voted 17-4 to reauthorize and expand the State Childrens Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years even though President Bush said that he would veto the legislation.
Provisions in the bill aim to increase outreach and enrollment for low-income children, enhance premium assistance options for families and improve quality of care for children in public health programs.
An amendment by Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), which would improve reimbursement to community health centers, was added to the bill during committee negotiations.
The bill, which now goes to the full Senate for a vote, would have the lions share of the $35 billion come from a 61-cent-per-pack tax increase to cigarettes and other tobacco products. Meanwhile, a proposal by the White House would instead fund the program at $5 billion more per year.
Senate leaders said that the legislation would allow some 3.2 million more children from low-income families to enroll in the program.
But Bush administration officials were quick to skewer the proposal. In a written statement, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that while the administration also favors reauthorizing the SCHIP program, it wants to do so in a fiscally sound way.
This bill spends too much money with too little actual gain in insurance coverage for childrenalmost one-half of whom already have private insurance, Leavitt said, adding, We can do better. -- by Matthew DoBias