Statement On S. 275, The Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act Of 2009

Mr. President, I wish to express my strong support for the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  At a time when our country is moving in a new direction, it is fitting that we are considering this important measure among the first bills considered this Congress.  I believe the extension of CHIP will stand out as one of the great accomplishments of this body.  By passing this legislation, we would state clearly that the health of children in this country is an issue too important to be dealt with as business as usual. 

Last time the Senate considered an expansion of CHIP, the measure passed with bipartisan support and represented what can happen when members from both sides of the aisle come together to form a consensus.  Unfortunately, providing health coverage for millions of kids was not a priority of our former President and he vetoed the measure.  By standing in the way of this legislation, nearly 4 million children have had to wait to receive critical health coverage. With families struggling more than ever to make ends meet, passing this legislation is essential to protecting our nation’s children.     

This legislation is a matter of priorities, and I see no more important issue than caring for our kids.  Regrettably, there are some who remain opposed to this legislation. I have heard some argue that this bill should be opposed because it raises taxes.  Anyone who opposes the bill on these grounds is choosing big tobacco over children’s health. 

Others have argued against including a provision that allows states to waive the five year waiting period for legal immigrant children. These children, who are lawful immigrants and who will eventually be United States citizens, already have the ability to receive CHIP services.  Requiring kids to wait five years for health care is unconscionable and could create life-long consequences for children.   I have heard some claim that allowing legal immigrant children to receive public health care services would violate the conditions on which they entered the United States.  This argument is contrary to the position taken by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which does not believe an immigrant’s use of health care services such as Medicaid and SCHIP constitutes a violation of these conditions.  An immigrant can only become a public charge if they receive direct cash benefits, such as welfare, for their income.  Health benefits are expressly removed from this category.  During hard economic times, we should give states the ability to remove the restrictive barriers for legal immigrant children and allow them to receive critical health care services.  Investing in early health care for all children is sound policy.    

I support this bill because I believe it is a travesty that in the richest, most powerful, country in the world, there are more than forty-seven million people without health insurance.  That is an absolutely shocking number.  It represents roughly one in six people who are going without regular trips to the doctor, forgoing needed medications and are forced to use the emergency room for care because they have no where else to turn.  These are our friends, our neighbors, and millions of our children. 

The legislation before us will extend and renew health care coverage for over ten million children. After years of increases to the number of uninsured in this country, this is a solid step in the right direction.  Our recent economic crisis has left more Americans jobless and without health coverage for themselves and their family members.  No one is arguing that this bill is the solution to our health care crisis, but this bill represents significant progress.  It covers four million more kids and represents the first important step to begin reforming our health care system. 

In my home state of Vermont, we have been a national leader on children’s health care.  Even before the creation of CHIP, we knew that this was the right thing to do.  Because of our early action, Vermont has one of the lowest rates for uninsured kids in the country.  This bill will get us even closer to the goal of covering the thousands of eligible kids in our state who remain uninsured.  Further, the provisions in this bill will reverse the Bush administration policies to cut kids off the program and will ensure that thousands of Vermont kids will still have health care. 

We are faced with many choices here in the Senate.  When it comes to our nation’s kids, the choice is clear. This is a must-pass bill that takes important steps to cover all children who deserve to have every opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life.  I urge all my colleagues to stand with the children and support this bill.   

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