House votes to expand insurance for children

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to expand a health insurance program that already covers nearly 2,500 children in Jackson County whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford to purchase health insurance.

The legislation, which would increase funding to the State Children's Health Insurance Program that is set to expire Sunday, faces veto by President Bush, who says the measure would inch the United States towards socialized medicine.

In the 265-159 House vote, 25 Republicans broke ranks with the president to support the proposal while eight Democrats cast votes against the bill.

In the Senate, where the bill could be considered as early as today, the legislation expected to garner even wider GOP support, including from Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who has championed the issue for months.

The House-approved legislation would pump an additional $35 billion into the 10-year-old SCHIP program, as it's known, over the next five years to add an additional 36,000 children in Oregon, and 4 million children nationally to the 6.6 million already covered.

Under the SCHIP program, the federal government supplies two dollars for every dollar the state pays for health insurance for low- and moderate-income children. During Fiscal Year 2007, Oregon received $56.7 million, administered through the Oregon Health Plan.

Dr. Allen Douma of Ashland, the former director of the Oregon Health Plan, said in an earlier interview that although taxpayer money to insure children is money very well spent, with health care costs rising about seven percent annually, the five-year proposed SCHIP appropriation will buy less and less each year.

Opposed by Rep. Greg Walden, the Republican who represents Ashland and Medford, the SCHIP expansion would be funded by a 61-cent tax increase on cigarettes, raising the federal excise tax on smokes to $1.

"The President has made it clear that he will veto this measure," Walden said in a statement. "It's time for Congress and the White House to sit down in good faith and work out a reauthorization plan for children's health that can become the law of the land."

Originally, House lawmakers called also for cuts to Medicare Advantage to help bankroll an even larger expansion, but that idea was jettisoned amid objections by senators who threatened to withhold their support from a compromise bill if Medicare was affected.

Threatening to veto the House-Senate proposal, the president said members of Congress are "risking health coverage for poor children purely to make a political point" by sending him a bill that they know he will reject.

"Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage &

not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address.

However, rather than have millions of children without health care coverage, Bush has urged Congress to pass a resolution to continue funding the program at its current levels until a compromise can be reached.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said in a statement that the annual cost to insure the 10 million children that would be covered under the expanded program is roughly equivalent to 41 days worth of funding for the Iraq war.

"Protecting the health of children is a moral obligation," DeFazio said. "These are the most vulnerable members of our society and it's shameful that so many lack basic health services."

covers government for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at

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