Kids’ state health insurance needs federal $$$ Democrats attempt to reauthorize ‘SCHIP’ bill

Last month, the Democratic majority of U.S. House of Representatives presented a provision for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to get federal funding. However, it was part of an Iraqi War Bill that was vetoed by President George W. Bush two weeks ago.

The vetoed bill, known as “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act,” which also includes veteran health care among the provisions, allotted $650 million of the budget to gap the 2007 SCHIP shortfall facing about 14 states, including New Jersey.

“SCHIP is necessary for families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy private health insurance,” explained Rep. Albio Sires in April. “I am fighting in Congress so that my colleagues approve the necessary funding and do not shortchange the people of my district and the children of New Jersey.”

Due to Bush’s veto of the bill, the Democratic leadership of the House has been working to revise the bill, which is anticipated to be ready by Memorial Day. The new bill will, again, include the funding for the SCHIP program.

“The Democrats in Washington are making sure the SCHIP program is funded,” said Sires.

In Hudson County, there are approximately 13,600 children enrolled in the SCHIP program, many through the local non-profit North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC).

Promoting SCHIP

On April 27, during Cover the Uninsured Week, Sires held a press conference at the NHCAC to promote the SCHIP program. NHCAC President and CEO Christopher Irizarry and Director of Pediatrics Dr. Carmen Mallamaci joined Sires and advocated for federal funding of SCHIP for the thousands of patients serviced at the center and throughout the state.

“It is essential that the state receive the federal matching funds to be able to fully fund the program,” said Irizarry. “We not only need to continue helping these patients, it is clear that we need additional money to be able to include more children in the program.”

Created in 1997 as part of the Social Security Act, SCHIP is jointly financed by the federal and state governments through matching funds, and administered by the states according to their own criteria. Congress must reauthorize the program every five years.

“It would be devastating to lose the coverage,” said Mallamaci. “Not only for the health of young patients, but it would create tremendous stress for their parents who have no other way of making health care available to them.”

For West New York resident Guadalupe Perez, the SCHIP program has been vital for her daughter’s diabetes treatments.

“It helps me so much, since she was little, to buy her medicines and pay for doctor visits because she needs specialists,” said Perez.

“Many working families in New Jersey are falling through the cracks,” said Sires. “We have nine million children [across the country] without health insurance and a quarter of a million children uninsured in the state.” Since its inception, the SCHIP program has covered over 6 billion kids across the country.

NHCAC serves hundreds patients a day, most of whom need financial assistance to pay for their treatments and medicines.

It was recently noted that the number of insured patients in the state is dropping.

“In Hudson County this is the first time since 1998 that we have less people covered than in previous years, and we have to make sure to find out why,” said Sires.

Back to the drawing board

The estimated total of the SCHIP shortfall for 2007 is $750 million. The first draft of Bill H.R. 1591 requested $650 million in funding for SCHIP, plus an additional $50 billion as part of the Democratic Budget for Fiscal Year 2008 for improvements to children’s health insurance over the next five years.

“This summer Congress must pass a strong SCHIP Reauthorization Bill that will ensure that all children currently enrolled can remain in the program and accelerate the rate of progress in covering more uninsured children,” said Sires.

Since Bush vetoed the bill due to various disagreements, including the benchmarks for the Iraq War, the House has been working on a revised bill to present by Memorial Day.

The new bill also allots $650 million of immediate approved funds for the SCHIP program. But Bush still could veto the revised bill once again.

According to Sires’ office, under the new bill, troops will be funded for the next two to three months. Jessica Rosero can be reached at


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