HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that $20 billion would be sufficient to expand and reauthorize the State Childrens Health Insurance Program.
Funding for the program is one of the biggest sticking points between the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress right now, Leavitt said in a meeting with reporters.
The House last week failed to override President Bushs veto earlier this month of a bill that would have funded the program at $35 billion above the programs baseline of $25 billion over five years. The goal was to cover 10 million children, using federal tobacco tax money as a funding source.
However, with cost savings accrued by eliminating adults and illegal immigrant children from the program, Leavitt said, the program could be implemented in the neighborhood of $15 billion less than the $35 billion. The administration had previously recommended just a $5 billion increase to the programs baseline over five years.
In another major policy shift, Leavitt said the administration may be willing to cover children from families with incomes as high as 300% of the federal poverty levelprovided states adopt rigorous standards to enroll those from families with incomes under 200% of the poverty level. Leavitt said he would be sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today, outlining the policies HHS would be willing to accept to get to a compromise.
House Democrats in the meantime may propose a newly revised SCHIP bill as early as Thursday. -- by Jennifer Lubell
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