Support the State Children???s Health Insurance Program (Senate)

Media 08.1.07

Recipient: U.S. Senate

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we are writing to express our appreciation for your efforts to expand access to quality health care for low-income children. However, we are also very concerned about the failure to include coverage for legal immigrant women and children in S. 1893, the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Reauthorizing SCHIP and including the Legal Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (LICHIA) in the final version of the law are both crucial to building on SCHIP’s successful record of improving children’s access to health care, especially its great strides in covering racial and ethnic minority children.

Together, SCHIP and Medicaid have reduced the uninsured rate among all children, playing an especially significant role in minority communities. After the inception of SCHIP, the uninsured rate for Latino children dropped by nearly one-third, from a high of 30 percent to 21 percent. For African-American and Asian and Pacific Islander children, the uninsured rate dropped by half: from 20 to 12 percent and from 17 to 8 percent, respectively. Medicaid and SCHIP help children obtain vital screening and prevention services that allow them to stay healthy and grow to be productive adults.

Despite the program’s success, nine million children remain uninsured, more than five million of whom are racial and ethnic minorities. The inclusion of an additional $35 billion over five years will provide coverage to approximately four million more children, an important start toward ensuring that all children have access to health care. President Bush’s proposal to increase SCHIP funding by $5 billion over five years would not even be sufficient to keep pace with increased medical costs, and would have the unacceptable result of decreasing the number of children covered by several hundred thousand.

We do, however, have grave concerns that the Senate bill, unlike the House version, fails to include LICHIA. Under current law, newly arrived immigrants face a five-year bar from receiving federal health benefits under Medicaid or SCHIP. LICHIA would restore Medicaid and SCHIP benefits to lawfully present immigrant children and pregnant women. Many states already spend their own money to provide safety net programs for low-income immigrants. Allowing states to use some federally funded services toward that goal would bring significant fiscal relief to states and would give them the flexibility to better address the needs of their populations. LICHIA is sound health care policy that applies to legal immigrants and we urge the Senate to support it and move past the poisonous and misleading rhetoric used to subvert immigration reform legislation.

The House version (H.R. 3162, the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act) includes several other significant differences that we urge the Senate to support. Among them are several initiatives that would improve the overall quality and efficiency of the health care system for all patients, including promoting the use of electronic health records, providing funding for a non-profit organization to develop and promote consensus-based quality measures, promoting objective research to compare the effectiveness of various drugs and other treatments, and advancing the understanding of racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Finally, the House bill includes $15 billion in additional funding that would cover 1.1 million more uninsured children than the Senate version.

As the nation’s leading civil rights coalition, we are committed to children’s health care. We hope that the Senate will continue its tradition of bipartisan support for the important and effective SCHIP program and will reject any amendments that would limit eligibility or cut funding. Thank you for considering our views and working to continue our nation’s great progress in covering more uninsured, low-income children. Please contact Nancy Zirkin, at (202) 263-2880, or David Goldberg, program manager and special counsel, at (202) 466-0087, if you would like to discuss SCHIP or any other issues.

Wade Henderson, President and CEO
Nancy Zirkin, Vice President and Director of Policy