The U.S. House of Representatives voted to re-authorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — or S-CHIP program — by a margin of 289 to 139.

Executive director of Families USA Ron Polluck says he expects the bill to hit the Senate floor within the next few days.

Polluck says this legislation would provide coverage for about 11 million children, of which about 4.1 million are currently uninsured.

He says the timing on this is important because for every one percent unemployment goes up, 600-thousand children become eligible for Medicaid or the CHIP program.

How is the program funded?

More taxes, of course. The federal excise tax on tobacco would increase from 39 cents to a dollar.

CHIP was enacted in 1997. Congress passed the CHIP re-authorization last year but Bush vetoed the bill. At that time the House tried to override that veto but lacked the two-thirds majority vote necessary to do so.

Polluck says this vote is well over two thirds should that happen again, but doesn’t believe Obama would hesitate to approve the legislation. Conversely, he says this could very well be one of the first, if not the first bill Obama signs into law after he’s sworn in as president.

Five Missouri Representatives voted in favor of the bill: Congressmen Lacy Clay, Russ Carnahan, Ike Skelton, Emanuel Cleaver, and Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson. 

Emerson was Missouri’s only republican representative to cross party lines and vote with the democratic delegation in favor of the measure.

House republicans argue that amid the nation’s economic downturn is not the right time to augment programs that require more funding, but proponents of the program disagree.

Polluck says the timeliness of the healthcare reform is paramount since as unemployment rises, so does the number of the nation’s uninsured children.

Currently, Missouri has 135-thousand uninsured children. Polluck says the legislation would result in about 64-thousand of them gaining health coverage. That’s a 47 percent decrease in uninsured children statewide.

The bill would extend coverage to an additional four million uninsured children and now moves to the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate version of the bill does not include a controversial provision that would include undocumented immigrants under the legislation. Documented, or legal, immigrants would be eligible for the program.

"Current law prevents legal immigrants from participating in S-CHIP or Medicaid until they’ve been on the country legally for five years," Polluck says.

Citizens for Missouri’s Children also spoke in favor of the bill, saying the federal match rate is 73 percent and that it’s hopeful Missouri will appropriate the remaining 27 percent to take advantage of the program.

Investing in our children, the group says, is the best economic investment we can make.


Download/Listen: Emily Schwartze of Citizens for Missouri’s Children [:60 MP3]