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Olympia Snowe

S-CHIP: Ensuring Health Care Coverage for Kids
By Senator Olympia Snowe
Feb 9, 2009 - 11:13:07 AM

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This week President Barack Obama signed into law the reauthorization and extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), the successful decade-old program which provides health care coverage to children who are not eligible for Medicaid but struggle to obtain private health insurance. As S-CHIP was originally created through bipartisan compromise with an aim to ensure that every American has access to affordable health care coverage, I was proud to vote in favor of its Senate passage last week. The reauthorization of the S-CHIP program takes us one step closer to this goal by maintaining coverage for the 6 million children already covered by S-CHIP and extending coverage to nearly four million additional children in need.

With 8.1 million children in our country already lacking health insurance and a 7.3 percent national unemployment rate that is only expected to rise, the expansion of the S-CHIP program could not have come at a more critical time. In fact, a one percentage point rise in the national unemployment rate boosts Medicaid and S-CHIP enrollment by one million, including 600,000 children.

For many working families struggling to obtain health care, if benefits are even accessible to them, the costs continue to rise, moving further out of their reach. In Maine, a family of four can expect to pay $24,000 on the individual market for coverage. For most, taking this path is unrealistic and unworkable. The S-CHIP program provides working families with a means to obtain health insurance for their kids and afford to pay heating bills, buy groceries, and save for college.

One of the main components of the S-CHIP authorization is the eligibility extension. This bill would allow states to increase S-CHIP eligibility up to 300 percent of poverty - or $61,950 for a family of four. This means extending coverage to nearly four million children nationwide - a considerable achievement when you consider that over 8 million children are currently uninsured in America.

Oral health care is fundamental to a child's healthy development. Yet many erroneously consider dental care a "luxury" benefit. Under current law, dental coverage is not a guaranteed benefit under S-CHIP. While all states offer dental coverage today, the lack of a federal guarantee for dental care in S-CHIP has left children's oral health unstable and unavailable in some states. This bill contains a guaranteed dental benefit under S-CHIP- a policy that I am proud to support. All children should have access to quality dental care  - whether they have public or private coverage.

Today, there are 4.1 million children in our country under 200 percent of poverty who have private medical coverage but not dental coverage. I was proud to sponsor a provision that gives states the option to provide dental-only coverage to income-eligible children who have medical insurance but not dental coverage. Studies show that some parents eventually drop employer-sponsored coverage for a child in order to access dental coverage through S-CHIP. This bill gives states the option to provide dental-only coverage so that working families aren't forced to drop employer health coverage in order to obtain dental.

Another accomplishment of this bill is the option for states to extend coverage to low-income pregnant women through S-CHIP. I have long been involved in promoting investments in maternal health both in the U.S. and abroad. As America ranks 41st among 171 countries in the latest ranking of maternal mortality, we must do more to provide affordable quality healthcare for pregnant women. Without a doubt, coverage of low-income pregnant women through S-CHIP will build stronger, healthier families.

I also backed an amendment to provide states the option to provide coverage of legal immigrant children. More than 20 states make this coverage available to using their own dollars, and the that children whose parents are recent legal immigrants are two to three times more likely to be in fair or poor health compared to children of native-born parents. The longer we wait to extend coverage to legal immigrant children and pregnant women, the more likely they will be in worse health if they eventually are covered by Medicaid and S-CHIP. The most effective care is preventive care and amendment will help keep kids healthy, and reduce health care costs.

I am proud to stand with President Obama, my Senate and House colleagues, and the ten million children who will benefit from this bill and, together, see S-CHIP extended and improved. In the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in history, we absolutely cannot allow the health of our nation's children to fall through the cracks.

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