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Obama ratifies SCHIP expansion

President Obama has signed into law a controversial expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Programme (SCHIP) extending benefits to more than 4 million additional children

President Obama has signed into law a controversial expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Programme (SCHIP) extending benefits to more than 4 million additional children, after the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 290 to 135. The Senate approved the bill last week.

The law funds the expansion of the programme to a total of 11 million children through increased federal tobacco taxes, including a substantial increase in the cigarette tax, which many advocates view as a 'win-win' for children's health, since it is expected to help dissuade young people from buying cigarettes.

Democrats have been pushing for SCHIP expansion for about two years, but former President Bush and many other Republicans staunchly opposed the change, which they argued would be a step toward a full government takeover of the US healthcare system. In the end, 40 Republicans voted for the expansion, and two Democrats broke ranks and voted against it.

SCHIP was created 10 years ago to ensure coverage for the children of families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can't afford to buy private insurance. The programme provides a wide range of services, including check-ups, prescription drugs and immunisations.

"This is only the first step", President Obama said about his signing of the new law. "As I see it, providing coverage for 11 million children is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American."

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) president and CEO Billy Tauzin called the new law "a tremendous victory for millions of low-income, uninsured American families" and "an important step toward the goal of helping all American children have access to the high-quality, affordable healthcare they need."  PhRMA has been a long-term supporter of the measure, even launching its own television public service announcements last year to tout SCHIP's benefits.

Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, also voiced support, calling the new legislation "vital" and noting that her organisation "collaborated with a broad coalition of stakeholders in support of SCHIP reauthorisation."

Many health advocacy and children's advocacy groups were nothing short of jubilant. The website of the healthcare consumer advocacy group Families USA declared "Hooray!! We did it!" and offered a feature that allowed visitors to send notes and photos to President Obama to thank him for signing the law.

5th February 2009

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