On January 29, the U.S. Senate passed the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), originally enacted in 1997 as an addition to Medicaid. It would have expired on March 31, potentially leaving over 7 million children without health insurance.
The bill passed 66 votes to 32, with several Republicans joining Democrats to pass the bill. The Republican leadership wanted to expand SCHIP spending by $5 billion over five years, an annual increase of 20 percent. In contrast, congressional Democrats succeeded in increasing SCHIP by $32 to $39 billion over five years, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, almost tripling the program by 2013.
Democrats seek to move the government toward national health insurance that is not a low-income program but would be like national defense—available to everyone, and paid for by the taxpayers, as in Europe and Canada. This is a fundamental philosophical difference.
Since the House of Representatives passed a similar bill on January 14, the two bills will be reconciled in conference. The bills are funded by increasing tobacco taxes (assuming the smokers don’t quit in response to the higher tax). The legislation will then go to President Obama, who indicated that he will sign it, unlike President Bush, who vetoed a similar SCHIP increase as excessive.