From: Reuters
Published December 20, 2007 08:20 AM

U.S. House passes extension of child health program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ending months of deadlock with the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday gave final bipartisan approval to legislation that would temporarily extend the state health insurance program that covers about 6.6 million poor children.

The bill, approved by a 411-3 vote, extends the program until March 2009. It also delays a scheduled 10 percent pay cut for Medicare doctors for six months and provides a 0.5 percent increase instead.

Lawmakers have struggled for years to replace what they see as a flawed Medicare physician payment policy but have instead settled for a series of short-term fixes like this one.

The Senate on Tuesday approved the same bill and the White House has indicated that President George W. Bush will sign it. Lawmakers predicted that they would have to revisit Medicare payments early in 2008.

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Bush vetoed more ambitious earlier bills that would have expanded the health program to cover about 10 million children, even though they had bipartisan support. The president said they were too costly and would push more children into government-run health care instead of private plans.

Bush also objected to raising tobacco taxes to pay for the proposed expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Democrats had hoped for a short-term extension of the program so they would be able reopen the battle before the November 2008 presidential and congressional elections. But Republicans forced them to extend it through March 2009.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said: "We are pleased that the Congress passed legislation to extend SCHIP until March 31, 2009 -- and did so without raising taxes."

"With this bill, we can be assured that children will continue to have coverage, and Democrats won't be able to play election-year politics with children's health," Perino said.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said: "What we couldn't resolve, the American people will resolve in November."

The health legislation costs about $6 billion, but was paid for by savings in other health programs.

(Reporting by Joanne Kenen; Editing by Eric Beech)

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