WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate approved legislation to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 2) passed by a 66-32 vote on Thursday night. If signed into law, the legislation will provide health insurance to over 11 million American children in low income families.

The bill includes critical provisions that eliminate the five year waiting period currently imposed on legal immigrant children and pregnant women before they are eligible for health coverage under Medicaid and SCHIP. In addition, the bill includes measures to ensure children are afforded dental coverage as part of SCHIP, even if they have private health coverage.

Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, made the following comments:

“Today, the Members of the United States Senate stood with our nation’s children by approving a strong renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Thankfully, a majority of Senators were able to fend off a significant number of amendments that would have done serious harm to the Program. Included within the Senate legislation are key provisions ensuring health coverage for legal immigrant children and pregnant women, while also providing dental coverage as part of CHIP. These measures are critical to ensure that every child in every community has the health and dental care they need to achieve their full potential.

“Further, this bill eases administrative barriers to coverage for eligible children through ‘express lane enrollment’ measures, from legislation by Senators Bingaman and Lugar. The Act also provides grants to school and community-based organizations to improve outreach and enrollment activities, in addition to other provisions that improve health care access and coverage for our nation’s most precious resource, our children.
“No government program has been more successful in expanding children’s healthcare coverage than SCHIP. In these dire economic times, this program serves as a critical lifeline for millions of American families. While it is clear that there is more work to do to ensure coverage for all children, indeed all Americans, we are grateful for this important step in that direction.”

The legislation calls for a 61 cent increase to the federal tobacco tax, which will provide $32.3 billion over four and a half years.

Yesterday, First Focus led an impressive coalition of 360 state and national organizations in urging the Senate to approve a strong renewal of SCHIP. Specifically, in a letter to the Senate, the coalition urged Senators to defeat any amendments or provisions that would impose new coverage limitations on children, create additional bureaucratic and paperwork burdens upon children, as well as those that undermine efforts to simplify enrollment and outreach efforts, particularly for the millions of low-income children currently eligible for but unenrolled in Medicaid and SCHIP.

A recent national poll by First Focus has found that Americans support SCHIP renewal by a margin of more than eight to one, 82-10 percent. In addition, by a margin of 79-15 percent, a majority of Americans favor expanding SCHIP to cover legal immigrant children. Finally, the poll found that 65-10 percent of Americans are more supportive of SCHIP when knowing the funding would come form an increase in the federal tobacco tax.

The legislation now heads back to the House of Representatives, which is expected to vote on the Senate version of the bill next week.