Alexander, Corker Praise Reauthorization of State Children's Health Insurance Program

Senators Also Secure Permanent Financial Fix in the Bill for Tennessee Hospitals Treating A Large Number of Uninsured

Posted on September 27, 2007

U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., today said reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) will boost Tennessee’s efforts to provide coverage for the state’s neediest children. The SCHIP Reauthorization package, expected to be approved by the full Senate this evening, will also contain a permanent solution to help compensate Tennessee hospitals that treat a large number of patients who are unable to pay their bills. “This legislation increases and expands health care coverage for the low-income, uninsured Tennessee children who need it the most like the 10,000 children currently being served through the state’s CoverKids program,” Alexander said. “Thanks to this bill, more of Tennessee’s 127,000 uninsured kids will be able to take advantage of this valuable program. Now that Congress has passed SCHIP, it should reform the tax code to give uninsured Americans, including the 800,000 uninsured in Tennessee, the ability to afford to buy private health coverage.” "While the SCHIP reauthorization legislation is not perfect, I chose to err on the side of securing health benefits for millions of needy children," said Corker. "Now that debate on this bill is temporarily over, we must find a way for all Americans to have access to affordable, private health care. I look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the isle to address this problem that we have a moral responsibility to solve.” The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), begun ten years ago, offers coverage for children in low-income families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance. This bill’s $34.9 billion expansion over five years will reduce the ranks of the nation’s uninsured children by boosting the program’s enrollment to more than 10 million children, up from the current 6.6 million. "This bill also provides permanent federal funding for Tennessee hospitals, restoring a benefit almost every other state already receives," said Corker. "These funds will be help alleviate the burden placed on providers and patients due to the extraordinary cost of uncompensated care. Securing this permanent solution was a major bipartisan effort in which members of the Tennessee delegation in both the House and the Senate worked together for the greater good of our state. I appreciate the work of all those who contributed to this successful effort." In April, Tennessee began providing health care to the state’s low-income, uninsured children through the CoverKids program. This program is available for free to children under the age of 19 who are living with families with incomes under 250 percent of the federal poverty level. There are 10,000 children enrolled in the program statewide. In addition, the bill provides for a permanent annual Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotment for Tennessee of $30 million per year. DSH payments help compensate hospitals that treat large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients. Tennessee and Hawaii are the only two states that do not have permanent DSH allotments. Alexander and Corker earlier secured a commitment to include this provision in this final version of the bill from the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., and the committee’s ranking Republican member, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Alexander and Corker said hospitals providing care to a disproportionately high share of Medicaid and uninsured patients are placed at a disadvantage and need extra payments because Medicaid reimbursements don’t always cover the actual cost of the medical bills. “These payments will help keep Tennessee hospitals afloat,” Alexander said. “I want to thank Senator Corker and the Tennessee delegation in the House of Representatives for their help in making sure Tennessee hospitals are no longer penalized for helping those that are sick and disadvantaged.” "This bill also provides permanent federal funding for Tennessee hospitals, restoring a benefit almost every other state already receives," said Corker. "These funds will be help alleviate the burden placed on providers and patients due to the extraordinary cost of uncompensated care. Securing this permanent solution was a major bipartisan effort in which members of the Tennessee delegation in both the House and the Senate worked together for the greater good of our state. I appreciate the work of all those who contributed to this successful effort." Alexander and Corker said the bill reauthorizing SCHIP explicitly prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid and SCHIP benefits. This bill requires, for the first time, an established process for states to verify citizenship of enrollees in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The bill also allows states to create a system using Social Security cards to enforce that citizenship requirement. “For this purpose and other purposes, we need to make Social Security cards more secure, and I will support legislation to do so,” Alexander said. Alexander said he will support legislation to require a data sharing agreement between the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, which would allow the government to verify, for example, whether or not a Social Security number is held by a legal resident.