Funding SCHIP

Earlier I posted (see here) the text of my Emails to my Senators in the federal government where I voiced my opposition to funding expansion of SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) through an outrageous increase in tobacco taxes.

Below is the response I received from one of my Senators, that being Senator Warner. I am still awaiting a response from Senator Webb (it is one month and counting).

Dear Mr. Obermark:

Thank you for contacting me to share your views about health insurance for children. I appreciate your thoughtful inquiry.

I have long held the view that it is important for all Americans to have access to high quality healthcare at an affordable cost. While most Americans have access to quality health insurance, particularly through their employer, others turn to federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Still, today, approximately 46 million Americans do not have any form of health coverage. In my view, Congress must examine ways to reduce this number.

Since 1997, one of the most successful programs in reducing the number of uninsured children in this country has been the State Children’s Health Insurance program (SCHIP). This important federal-state partnership, which is supported with $5 billion a year in federal funds, helps expand health insurance coverage to children from low-income families who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid and who do not otherwise have private health insurance. In addition, states have the option of providing coverage to low-income pregnant women.

I am proud to have been a strong supporter of SCHIP when it was passed by the Congress and signed into law in 1997. Currently, SCHIP provides health insurance coverage to 6.6 million low-income children nationwide, including over 80,000 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Still, it is estimated that more than 2.7 million children are eligible, but for various reasons, not enrolled in the program.

The SCHIP program expired in September 2007; however, the program is currently funded through a continuing resolution which expires December 14th. In order to continue this critical program, Congress must reauthorize the law. Due to increasing costs of health care, the Congressional Budget Office now estimates that $14 billion, in addition to the $25 billion in the baseline budget, over five years will be needed to simply cover those children currently enrolled in the SCHIP program.

Consequently, on November 27, 2006, I sent a letter to President Bush requesting an increase in SCHIP funding in his Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08) Budget. In addition, on March 21, 2007, I voted in favor of an amendment offered by Senator Baucus to S.Con.Res.21, the Senate Budget Resolution, to increase funding for SCHIP by an additional $15 billion over 5 years. The amendment passed by a vote of 97-1, with my support. On May 17, 2007, the Senate passed the conference report to S.Con.Res.21, which completes work on the FY08 Budget Resolution.

The Senate recently considered legislation, H.R. 976, to reauthorize the SCHIP program beyond September 2007. The bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 68-31, with my support, retains coverage for the 6.6 billion children currently enrolled in the program, as well as provides funds to enroll an additional 3.3 million uninsured children. To meet these goals, the legislation provides an additional $7 billion a year for children’s health care. The bill also includes several reforms to the SCHIP program in an attempt to ensure that coverage is only provided to children from low income families and low-income pregnant women.

The cost of H.R. 976 is fully paid for through an increase in the federal tax on cigarettes and cigars. While I am supportive of increasing health insurance coverage for children and pregnant mothers from low-income families, I am concerned about relying solely on revenues from new tobacco taxes, which are especially regressive in targeting those who can least afford higher fees. For this reason, I supported a proposal offered by Senator Lott which would increase SCHIP coverage without a corresponding increase in the tobacco tax. Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated by a vote of 35-61. During the debate of H.R. 976, I also supported an amendment introduced by Senator Graham that would cause the tobacco tax increase to expire after five years. The Graham amendment, regrettably, was also defeated.

On August 1, 2007, the House of Representatives passed its version of legislation reauthorizing SCHIP. Next, on September 27, 2007, the Senate approved the conference report to the SCHIP legislation by a vote of 67-29, again with my support. On October 3, 2007, H.R.976 was vetoed by the President. To become law, two thirds of all members voting and present in each chamber of Congress must vote to override the President’s veto. Since, H.R.976 was a House-originated bill, the House acted first to override the veto. On October 18, 2007, the House failed to override the veto by a vote of 273-156.

Please be assured that I will be certain to keep your thoughts in mind should H.R.976 or similar legislation come before the full Senate.

Again, thank you for contacting me.

With kind regards, I am


John W. Warner
United States Senator

I am mulling over replying to this response. If I reply, I will post the text.


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