CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE PROGRAM REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - September 27, 2007)
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Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, today, in this Chamber, we are considering three critical issues that go to the heart of values we have as a nation, three pieces of legislation that seek to honor these values by putting them into action. We have passed and I am proud to support a bill to strengthen our capacity to stop hate crimes by supporting local law enforcement. We will be passing the largest expansion of health care for children since we created the Children's Health Insurance Program during the Clinton administration. Finally, included in this Children's Health Insurance Program legislation is a provision I sponsored and authored with Senator Dodd to support injured service members by giving their families more time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This is a banner day for the Senate and the Congress, and I am proud to join a bipartisan coalition in tackling these challenges, from children without health insurance to military families without the support they need.
We will pass the CHIP legislation by a wide margin, and so the choice will then fall squarely on the shoulders of the President. Will he join us in helping injured service members and in providing health care to 3.8 million children who right now don't have it or will he put ideology ahead of military families and vulnerable children? We in this Chamber know what the right choice is. The American people also know what the right choice is. I hope our President will put progress over partisanship and join the bipartisan majority and the vast majority of Americans in believing we can no longer treat these challenges and the people who face them as though they were invisible.
I believe every child deserves health care. Yet far too many children in our Nation--more than 9 million--do not have access to quality, affordable health care. That is a moral crisis which should be impelling us to act, and this Congress has done so.
A few weeks ago, I met Amy McCutchin, who was struggling to find health insurance for her 2-year-old daughter Pascale--a healthy, lively 2 1/2 year old. Amy works as a contractor while also going to school for her master's degree. She is divorced. She lost her insurance because of the divorce. She is not offered insurance through her employer because she does freelance work. Unfortunately, Pascale and her mom are among the millions for whom the Children's Health Insurance Program is currently unavailable.
When I met Amy, she stressed she is trying to do the right thing. She works hard. She is what we would call barely middle class. In fact, she can't miss a day of work or she doesn't get paid. But she is also going to school full time, and she has to balance that with her work and the care of her daughter. She is falling through the cracks, and so is little Pascale.
This is a story which is being told 9 million times every day by the parents of the children without health insurance. Today, we can tell a different story and create a different outcome.
I was proud to help create the State Children's Health Insurance Program during the Clinton administration. I worked on that legislation during my time as First Lady. In fact, after the bill was passed into law--a bipartisan majority in this Congress made that happen--I helped to get the word out to tell parents that help was on the way and to sign up children for the program in the first few years. In the Senate, I have continued that effort, fighting to ensure health care for children has the priority in our budget it deserves, and I am proud of the progress we have made.
The CHIP program provides health insurance for 6 million children. In New York alone, almost 400,000 kids benefit from CHIP every month. With this strong bipartisan, bicameral agreement, hammered out in this Chamber by Chairman Baucus and Senators Grassley, Rockefeller, and Hatch, an additional 72,000 children in New York will have access to health care coverage.
It will also help enroll many of the almost 300,000 children in New York who live in families who are already eligible for CHIP or for Medicaid because they make less than $52,000 a year, which is 250 percent of the poverty level for a family of four. Now, I know that sounds like a lot of money to some people around the country, but it doesn't go very far in New York, and it is one of the reasons why so many children in New York don't have access to health care and why we are fighting so hard in New York to extend health care to those who need it and can't yet afford it.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 3.8 million children who are uninsured nationwide will gain coverage. That will reduce the number of uninsured children by one-third over the next 5 years. Now, if we can afford tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and tax cuts for oil companies making record profits, I think we ought to be able to find it in our hearts and in our budget to cover the millions of children who deserve a healthy start.
I want to be very clear. If the President vetoes this bill, as he has threatened, he will be vetoing health care for almost 4 million children and he will be putting ideology, not children, first.
Earlier this year, I was proud to introduce legislation with Chairman John Dingell from the House of Representatives to reauthorize and expand CHIP, and I am very pleased that a number of the ideas in our bill are included in this legislation, such as cutting the redtape and bolstering incentives to get eligible children into the program. The legislation also improves access to private coverage and expands access to benefits such as mental health and dental coverage.
Some of my colleagues have heard me tell the story about the young boy living in Maryland whose mother wasn't on Medicaid, wasn't on CHIP, and was struggling to get some kind of health care coverage for her children when her 12-year-old son came down with a toothache. Medicaid and CHIP don't cover dental care in many cases, anyway, so even though she eventually got coverage, she couldn't find a dentist who was available to actually provide the dental care. Her son continued to complain, the toothache turned into an abscess, the abscess broke, and the next thing you know, the little boy is in the emergency room and being admitted to the hospital. But because the poison had already spread into his bloodstream, he had to be put on life support, and Demonte didn't make it. So for the lack of a visit to a dentist, which might have cost $80, $85, a little boy lost his life. And this is why expanding access to mental health and dental coverage is absolutely critical.
I also commend the authors of this bipartisan agreement for their work and for bringing forward a practical, fiscally responsible compromise. It represents the culmination of a lot of hard work. I see some of the staff from the Finance Committee here on the floor, and I thank them because I know how much they did to make this possible.
I am also pleased that the conference report includes the support for the Injured Service Members Act of 2007, legislation Senator Dodd and I introduced to provide up to 6 months of job-protected leave for spouses, children, parents, or next of kin of service members who suffer from combat-related injuries or illness.
This amendment implements a key recommendation of the Dole-Shalala Commission, chaired by former Senator Dole, who served with great distinction in this Chamber, and Secretary Shalala, who served for 8 years under the Clinton administration as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Their Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors came up with a number of recommendations, and those recommendations are supported by a broad bipartisan coalition in Congress.
The families of our service men and women face extraordinary demands in caring for loved ones who are injured while serving our Nation. Currently, the spouses, parents, and children receive only the 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. But, as the Dole-Shalala Commission found, all too often that is just not enough time. An injured servicemember usually grapples with not only the physical injuries but having been, just a few weeks or months before, a healthy, fit young person and now, with the loss of a limb or being blinded or burned, having to come to grips with all of that. That takes time as well as medical care.
These new injuries our service members are suffering--the traumatic brain injuries--that we are only now focusing on are especially difficult.
I remember being at Walter Reed a few months ago, and I met a young Army captain who had been in a convoy hit by one of those improvised explosive devices, resulting in the loss of his right arm and the ring finger on his left hand because he had his wedding band on his finger and the explosion had caused his wedding band to melt into his finger, unfortunately causing him to lose that finger.
I asked him: Captain, how are you doing?
He said: Oh, Senator, I am making progress. Folks are helping me get used to the prosthetic, and I am learning how to use it. But where do I go to get my brain back? I never had to ask people for help before. Now my wife has to make a list for me, telling me where I have to go to meet my appointments and what I have to do when I am there. Where do I go to get my brain back?
Well, these wounds--some that you can see, some that you can't--are extremely serious and require family members to be available. The language included in the bill expands leave to 6 months. It is a step we can take immediately that will make a real difference in the lives of these wounded warriors and their families, and I hope the President will think about that before he vetoes this bill.
Now, I am disappointed that the CHIP bill doesn't include the Legal Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act, which I introduced with Senator Snowe and have been working on with her for a number of years. This bipartisan bill would give States the flexibility to provide Medicaid and CHIP coverage to low-income legal immigrant children and pregnant women. I want to underscore that. We are talking about legal immigrant children and pregnant women.
The current restrictions prevent thousands of legal immigrant children and pregnant women from receiving preventive health services and treatment for minor illnesses before they become serious. Families who are unable to access care for their children have little choice but to turn to emergency rooms. This hurts children, plain and simple, and I think it costs us money.
A legal pregnant woman who cannot get prenatal care may have a premature baby, who ends up in a neonatal intensive care unit, which ends up costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars. So I hope we are going to be able to lift this ban and make it possible for States to access Medicaid and CHIP for legal immigrant children and pregnant women.
But I could not be more proud that the Senate is voting on expanding health care to 3.8 million children. There is no debating the importance of this and the way the Senate has come together in order to produce this result.
Finally, I am proud to support the bipartisan legislation which we have passed to strengthen our tools against crimes motivated by hate on the basis of a victim's race, ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity. These are crimes not just against an individual but against a community. What we have done by moving this legislation forward means we are taking a stand on behalf of those individuals and communities affected.
Hate crimes are an affront to the core values that bind us one to the other in our country. We should dedicate the resources needed to prosecute these crimes to the fullest extent of the law. I am very proud of our country. I think we rightly hold ourselves up as a model for the ideals of equality, tolerance, and mutual understanding. But we cannot rest. We have to continue to fight hate-motivated violence in America. With today's vote, the Senate is proclaiming loudly that the American people will not tolerate crimes motivated by bigotry and hatred, that we will punish such crimes and the bigotry they represent.
I commend Judy and Dennis Shepherd for their extraordinary dedication and leadership when it comes to the prosecution of hate crimes. The murder of their son Matthew was a tragic event for a family, but a motivating cause was created. No parent should ever have to bear what the Shepards have borne, but their grace and their grit in going forward is inspirational. The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a step toward honoring their son's memory, and honoring everyone who has ever been afflicted by hate-motivated violence and harassment.
I commend my colleague Senator Kennedy for his long-time leadership on this important matter.
The Matthew Shepard Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act condemns the abhorrent practice of victimizing people and authorizes the Justice Department to help State and local governments investigate and prosecute these appalling offenses. I commend my colleague and friend Senator Hatch.
Today is a good day for the Senate. We are doing good work. It may be at a glacial pace in the eyes of some of us, but I have faith in our system and I have the utmost respect for this body. It is an honor to be part of it, especially on a day such as today when we make progress on behalf of the values America stands for.
I yield the floor.
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