3:23 PM Eastern - Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Poll Shows Widespread Support for SCHIP Expansion to Cover Legal Immigrant Children

According to the most recent estimates from the Census Bureau, 8.6 million children in the United States lacked health coverage in 2007. Last year, Congress debated and passed two pieces of bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which would have reduced the number of uninsured children by almost half and expanded health coverage throughout the nation to as many as 4 million additional uninsured children. President Bush vetoed both bills.

According to Families USA, the vast majority of uninsured children come from families where at least one parent works (88.2 percent), and more than two-thirds of uninsured children--or 68.5 percent--live in households where at least one family member works full-time, year-round. And more than half of the nation's uninsured children come from low-income families with incomes below twice the poverty level, who are likely eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP.

So although the Bush Administration proclaimed it would "leave no child behind" when it comes to education, 8.6 million American children - a majority of whom are from working families - are being left behind because they lack health coverage. "The sad reality is that kids who don't have health insurance are far more likely to get sidetracked--right at the beginning of their lives--because their families can't afford quality care," said SEIU Healthcare chair Dennis Rivera.

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During the current economic downturn as working families are struggling to make ends meet, no one should have to choose between health care for their kids and making a mortgage or rent payment. Hopefully, things will be looking up for the nation's uninsured children in the near future, as the new Administration and president-elect Barack Obama are widely expected to push for eligibility expansions for SCHIP, which is up for reauthorization anyway in the spring.

Rising Tide of Support for SCHIP

Two-thirds of the public (82 percent) supports SCHIP renewal and extending children's health benefits to legal immigrant children, according to a poll released yesterday by child advocacy group First Focus. Key poll results also show that 67 percent of respondents favored eliminating the five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children, while 19 percent were opposed. [SCHIP is not available to legal immigrants during their first five years in the country, with the exception of those living in states that use state funds to cover legal immigrants who qualify.]

Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) hailed the poll as evidence of the nation's broad, bipartisan support for renewal of the SCHIP program, which expires in March, 2009.

Senator Harry Reid at the announcement:

"The findings announced today confirmed what we knew over a year ago - Americans support providing children with health care coverage and they understand the importance of removing the five-year waiting period for coverage for legal immigrant children and pregnant women."

Senator Rockefeller:

"I look forward to working with President-elect Obama and the Congressional leadership to quickly reauthorize CHIP so that millions of uninsured children - including legal immigrant children - receive the health coverage they need."

Poll respondents favored expanding SCHIP by a margin of 79-15 to ensure that all children in America, including legal immigrant children, have health care coverage.

"In the debate of 2007, Republicans used the coverage of legal immigrant children against expanding the children's health insurance program," said First Focus spokesperson Christopher Spina to CQ yesterday. "We clearly now see a mandate among the American people."

More findings from the First Focus poll.

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