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          Front Page




Child Health Has Support

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
    WASHINGTON— Most members of New Mexico' congressional delegation plan to support a proposed multi-billion dollar children' health care expansion that President Bush has threatened to veto.
    Among delegation members, only Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, voiced skepticism Monday about the pending reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, often referred to as SCHIP.
    The U.S. House is expected to vote as soon as today on a House-Senate compromise that would boost SCHIP funding by $35 billion over five years. The Senate is also expected to vote on the $35 billion increase by week's end. The program is set to expire Saturday if Congress doesn't renew it.
    The program helps provide health insurance to about 19,000 children in New Mexico and about 6 million nationwide. The state and federal partnership provides health care to families whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private coverage.
    The proposed expansion would be paid for by increased federal cigarette taxes.
    Reps. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Heather Wilson, R-N.M., plan to support the program expansion, which would provide coverage for an estimated 3 million to 4 million additional children nationwide.
    Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., are still reviewing an identical bill headed to the Senate floor later this week, but both expect to support it, aides said.
    "It is very, very likely the senator will support the (House-Senate) agreement," said Domenici spokesman, Chris Gallegos.
    The bill contains provisions written by Bingaman that adds dental coverage to the SCHIP plan.
    "Almost 100,000 New Mexican children lack health insurance," Bingaman said in a statement Monday. "It is vital to enact an SCHIP bill that reaches out to more children, giving them access to health care."
    Marissa Padilla, a spokeswoman for Udall, said the congressman preferred a more wide-ranging bill that also had implications for Medicare, but that bill was scuttled in negotiations with the Senate.
    "Congressman Udall voted to support the bill in the first place and right now it's necessary to get something done by week's end," Padilla said, noting Udall's support of the scaled-back compromise.
    Wilson opposed the bill with Medicare implications, but now supports the straight SCHIP expansion.
    "Children's health care should be a bipartisan issue and this agreement reflects a bipartisan compromise to improve the health of America's children," Wilson wrote in a letter to House Republicans on Monday, urging them to support the bill.
    President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, arguing that it is an expansion that would unnecessarily cover children who are already on private plans and would be a initial step toward socialized medicine.
    A Bush veto would require 290 votes in the House to override, and some Republicans would have to support the override for it to hold. A Wilson spokesman said Monday that she would support a veto override.
    Pearce, who represents southern New Mexico, agrees with Bush and said he expects to oppose the legislation today. He and Bush argue that the program should be reauthorized but with a much more modest increase. Bush has proposed a $5 billion increase.
    "Both the House and the Senate have (proposed to) dramatically increase the scope of the program," Pearce said in an interview Monday. "We don't have an objection to the overall program, but we do have an objection to socialized medicine."


E-MAIL writer Michael Coleman