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Wilson Announces Intention to Introduce House Bill to Strengthen State Children`s Health Insurance Program in New Mexico

Location: Washington, DC

Wilson Announces Intention to Introduce House Bill to Strengthen State Children`s Health Insurance Program in New Mexico

Congresswoman Heather Wilson today announced she will introduce House legislation to protect New Mexico's share of federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides access to health care for thousands of children in lower-income families.

Speaking today in a hearing of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which she serves, Wilson also urged reauthorization and funding of the program so that children across the nation continue to have access to healthcare.

A House leader on the issue, Wilson and Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR) are also spearheading a bipartisan effort by 76 centrists to protect SCHIP funding. The Berry-Wilson letter, sent February 1 to the Budget Committee, calls for reauthorization and full funding of this important program. The centrists are members of the Republican Main Street Partnership and the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition, including 8 Democrats and 5 Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Children's health care is a priority for all of us. We should start with the kids," Wilson said.

The bill introduced today by Wilson would protect millions in federal dollars for the state, and is the House companion to Senate legislation introduced in January by Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici. The bill would prevent the state of New Mexico from being penalized for increasing coverage for children before the enactment of the federal program.

"In New Mexico, the SCHIP program has allowed about 20,000 kids each year to have health coverage," Wilson said. "It's an important program that keeps kids healthy, and we need to support it. As we work on legislation to reauthorize the program, I will work on improvements to make it more flexible for states like New Mexico."

SCHIP is a federally funded health care initiative providing coverage for millions of American children. The program covers those children whose families, although they do not qualify for Medicaid, would not be able to afford health insurance. SCHIP was created in 1997 to fill that gap. It is up for reauthorization this year. New Mexico and several other states must have additional authority to use SCHIP funding for certain other low-income children in Medicaid because the state had already expanded coverage to more children prior to the enactment of SCHIP.

Text of Wilson's remarks today to the Health Subcommittee:

Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for holding this hearing today on uninsured children and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

SCHIP has been an important program for children in New Mexico. About 20,000 more low-income children in New Mexico have health coverage annually because of SCHIP. We know that having health insurance means kids can go to the doctor when needed to get routine check-ups and immunizations. Studies have shown that children with insurance are in better health than children without. SCHIP gives kids a healthy start in life.

Last week I visited Alamosa Community Health Center in Albuquerque's South Valley. I met a young woman there named Veronica Esparza, a 31 year old single mother. She has a beautiful nine year old daughter Alyssa. When Alyssa was younger, Veronica was going to school and had an entry-level job with the State of New Mexico. Private health insurance was too costly with Veronica's income and just out of reach, so they had no health insurance. Veronica realized that, even with a paying job, her daughter qualified for a program called New Mexikids, New Mexico's SCHIP program. Through the two years Alyssa was enrolled in New Mexikids, she went for regular check-ups and care, and Veronica had peace of mind knowing that her daughter's health care needs were taken care of. Today Veronica has a new job and can afford private health insurance for her daughter and herself. But SCHIP was there for Veronica and Alyssa when they needed it. That's why this program matters.

Earlier this month I joined Congressman Marion Berry from Arkansas in organizing a bipartisan letter asking the House Budget Committee to fully fund SCHIP to prevent any children from losing coverage. The letter also urged our strong support for the reauthorization of SCHIP this year.

The letter was a joint effort by the Republican Main Street Partnership and the Blue Dog Democrat Coalition, the official groups of moderate House Republicans and Democrats. Children's health care is a bipartisan issue, one in which centrists from both parties can agree is important. Seventy-six House Members signed our letter, including 29 Republicans. Many Members of this Committee signed our letter, including five Republicans and eight Democrats. Children's health care should be a bipartisan issue and I hope whatever approach this committee takes to improve the program this year can be bipartisan and Members of both parties can work together on reauthorizing this legislation.

As we move forward this year with reauthorizing SCHIP, there are a few things I believe are important. Several states, including New Mexico, had expanded their Medicaid programs before the enactment of SCHIP to low-income children beyond 150% of the Federal Poverty Limit. As a result, many of our states have not been able to take advantage of SCHIP funding for children at the same poverty levels as other states. Senator Domenici and Senator Bingaman have introduced legislation in the Senate to allow New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin to use a small portion of their unused SCHIP allotments for children in Medicaid. I will introduce this legislation in the House and believe it would correct an inequity created when SCHIP was enacted.

I also believe we need to find new, innovative ways to get eligible children enrolled in SCHIP and better integrate the SCHIP program with private health insurance and employer coverage. I would like to work on these issues as SCHIP reauthorization progresses this year.

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