Shortly after taking office, President Obama is expected to sign a bill that could give health insurance to illegal aliens and children from middle-class families that make more than $61,000 per year.
Last week, the House voted 289-139 to expand HR 3963, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, a federal program providing coverage to children whose families have higher incomes than those who qualify for Medicaid. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., renews the program for five years, increases funding from the current $35 billion to $60 billion and expands coverage from million to 11 million uninsured children.
The Senate Finance Committee began reviewing the bill Thursday. If passed by the Senate, the legislation will be ready for Obama to sign after he takes office. Similar legislation sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., passed the Senate 12-7 Thursday. Baucus’ bill would increase SCHIP funding by $31.5 billion.
HR 3963 is expected to receive quick approval from the new president.
Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, told the Associated Press Democrats are seeking to give Obama an early victory on health care.
President Bush vetoed two different versions of SCHIP extension legislation during his presidency, claiming the bills were a step toward socialized medicine.
Critics claim SCHIP expansion could damage the private insurance market by discouraging employers from covering their workers’ children on private plans, CNS News reports. Some say the program could also keep middle-class parents from buying insurance for their children because the legislation calls for an income cap of 300 percent above federal poverty levels – approximately $63,600 for a family of four in some states.
More than 2 million children who currently have private insurance could be covered under the expansion, causing a shift that could pose a burden to taxpayers. The bill increases the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents to $1 a pack to pay for the added costs.
On Wednesday, Obama encouraged the Senate to greet the legislation with the “same sense of urgency so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am president.”
According to AP reports, Obama said, “In this moment of crisis, ensuring that every child in America has access to affordable health care is not just good economic policy, but a moral obligation we hold as parents and citizens.”
The House bill also allows illegal aliens access to SCHIP because it no longer requires identification such as green cards or passports for enrollment. Illegals would be allowed to receive coverage for up to 90 days while states attempt to verify Social Security numbers. If they do not provide valid numbers, they will be dropped from enrollment after three months.
Illegals who have stolen Social Security numbers could continue to receive SCHIP benefits unless the Social Security Administration tracks the thefts.
After the House passed its version on Wednesday, Obama called Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to congratulate her.
“This is only the beginning of the change we will achieve with our new president,” Pelosi said.