by Mimi Johnson, NCL Health Policy Associate
President Obama recently signed an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) into law, making what he calls ‘a down payment on [his] promise to cover every American.’ This reauthorization means that 11 million low-income children will now have health insurance, covering four million more children than before. SCHIP works to cover children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to purchase private insurance.
This issue is very important to the National Consumers League. For over 100 years we have worked to improve the lives of children, from improving child labor laws to ensuring medication safety. The League strongly believes that all citizens have a right to adequate and affordable health care.
While SCHIP has been around since 1997, the reauthorization brings some exciting changes. For the first time, coverage will extend to children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants. Another revision includes a 62-cent increase in the cigarette tax, which will hopefully discourage kids from starting to smoke in addition to encouraging adults to quit. Still other preventive measures in the new SCHIP include programs to promote healthy lifestyles and help reduce childhood obesity.
We applaud Congress and the Obama Administration for acting swiftly to protect America’s children. Still, nearly nine million children remain uninsured in this country, a number that is most certainly rising. Almost two-thirds of Americans are insured through their employer. And with the recent announcement that nearly 600,000 jobs were lost in January alone, the number of uninsured is rising at an alarming rate.
Reauthorizing and expanding SCHIP is a great first step towards an improved health system, but we need to work quickly towards broader reform that ensures we can all receive the quality care we need.