Today’s news:

SCHIP health plan finds smooth sailing through Brooklyn

Every single one of Brooklyn’s representatives in the House of Representatives voted in favor of the expanded children’s health insurance bill passed just a few days ago.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation, which passed by a margin of 290 to 135, had long been sought by the borough’s elected officials, because of its ability to help the state cover children who were not otherwise insured.

SCHIP targets families earning too much money to qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private insurance. In New York State, it is estimated that an additional 60,000 uninsured children will get health insurance, thanks to the legislation. SCHIP currently covers approximately 310,000 children across the state whose families make no more than $44,100 (for a family of four).

The SCHIP Reauthorization Act will also save New York State approximately $50 million annually, because of federal monies that will be sent to the state to help it cover children in middle income families (making up to $88,200 for a family of four) who otherwise would have remained uninsured.

“Every child deserves access to quality, affordable health care,” noted Representative Anthony Weiner. “For years, middle class families have been struggling to keep up with the rising cost of care. Today is a sign that we are no longer accepting the status quo. This program protects our most vulnerable and expanding it is the right thing to do.”

Freshman Representative Michael McMahon concurred. “This vote demonstrates that the majority of lawmakers are focused on caring for our children and aiding the families who cannot provide their children with necessary medical attention because they do not have health insurance,” he remarked. “ The legislation also marks a turning point -- the beginning of our move towards a healthier, more stable, more supportive America for our children and their parents, who are struggling to provide their families with basic necessities.”

The effect of the legislation, said Representative Edolphus Towns, will be “to reduce the number of uninsured children” in New York State “by 66 percent, reducing the number from 400,000 to approximately 267,000.

“I don’t know about you, but that’s the type of change I can believe in,” Towns told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the House floor before the vote was taken.

The senate passed its version of the bill on January 29th. On the day that the House passed the bill, President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law, with New York Governor David Paterson among those present.

Paterson expressed his satisfaction in the bill becoming law. Calling it a “huge step forward in our efforts in New York State and across this nation to ensure that all children get the opportunity to grow up healthy,” Paterson noted that since the state expanded enrollment to include children in families making 400 percent of the federal poverty level, in September, 2008, “An additional 10,000 children have been enrolled. Two-thirds of these newly enrolled children are in families with incomes between 250 and 300 percent of the poverty level, the fastest-growing segment of uninsured children.”

The bill had been vetoed previously by Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush. Under Bush, as well, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had announced restrictions on New York’s administration of the SCHIP program, that threatened the state’s ability to provide coverage to many of the state’s children who otherwise would be uninsured. The cost of the SCHIP legislation will not add to the federal deficit; it is paid for by raising the tax on tobacco products by 61 cents.

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