New vote expected on SCHIP

The House is expected to vote today on a children's health insurance proposal similar to the one vetoed by President Bush on Oct. — amid objections to its cost and scope.

Although the revised proposal would lower the number of adults and middle-income families eligible for health care benefits under the State Health Insurance Program, congressional Democrats are not budging from the original price tag: $35 billion over the next five years.

Rep. Greg Walden, the Republican who represents Ashland and Medford, was the only member of Oregon's congressional delegation to oppose the original bill to reauthorize and expand the program and later vote to sustain the president's veto.

At the time, Walden argued the legislation would have encouraged moderate-income Americans to eschew private coverage and enroll instead in the government-sponsored program. He also complained that the bill would have extended benefits to illegal immigrants.

A spokesman said Walden is reviewing the legislation. He had not taken a position as of press time.

About 2,500 children in Jackson County are currently covered under the program that has temporary funding through Nov. 16. Through the program known as SCHIP, 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.

Last Thursday, the House voted 273-156 to override Bush's veto, 13 short of the two-thirds majority needed. In all, 44 Republicans joined 229 Democrats in voting to override the president.

The White House has said it is willing to expand the program by more than the $5 billion that President Bush proposed originally, but at issue remains the 61 cent per pack increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco products that would fund the expansion.

The 10-year-old program is designed for families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to easily afford medical insurance. It was created by a Republican-led Congress as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

Currently, families earning twice the federal poverty rate or less qualify for the program. Some states, however, have received federal waivers to enroll families earning three times the federal poverty level. New York had gone so far as to seek an exemption to enroll those earning four times the rate.

Under the revised plan, the legislation stipulates that states cannot cover children in families with incomes more than 300 percent above the federal poverty level, or about $61,950 for a family of four, and adults covered by the program will be eased off in a year rather two years by the previous proposal.

Also to help attract more Republican votes and allay concerns that the program would extend coverage to illegal immigrants, the new proposal also contain provisions allowing states more leeway to verify applicants' Social Security numbers.

covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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