Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong support for H.R. 2, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Improvements Act.
Providing children access to doctors and medicine is absolutely critical to a good start in life. But there are many children, in New Hampshire and across the country, whose families can’t afford private health insurance, but who are also not eligible to receive help, such as Medicaid. It’s the future of these children that we are considering on the Senate floor today.
This is an issue that near and dear to me. When I first tried to start the New Hampshire CHIP program, the New Hampshire State Legislature was unwilling to fund the state’s share. But I believed that the program would ultimately be successful, and we secured a waiver to allow a private foundation to put up what would be the state’s share. The program was successful, and the state’s share was funded in the next budget.
After enacting the New Hampshire CHIP program during my first term, tens of thousands of New Hampshire children have obtained affordable coverage through this program, and I’ve seen first-hand what a difference this program can make for middle class and working families.
Consider the case of Quint Stires from Keene, New Hampshire. I had the pleasure of meeting Quint on the campaign trail last year. Quint had advanced thyroid cancer, and had to quit his job after becoming too sick to work. And then his wife lost her job.
In this, the toughest of circumstances, Quint and his wife at least didn’t have to worry about medical coverage for their two sons. Quint has since passed away, and my thoughts go out to his family.
I think it’s important to share his story as we talk about CHIP legislation on the Senate floor. We sometimes lose sight of the individuals the legislation we enact will help. The CHIP program offered help to the Stires family when they needed it most, and we have the opportunity to make sure other families have the same safety net available to them.
Due to the uncertain economy we face today, there are going to be many more parents and children in tough positions. Families and businesses are being forced to cut back on just about everything. People are losing their jobs and employers are struggling to offer heath care, leaving a rising number of Americans in need of affordable coverage options for their kids.
The legislation we are considering today reauthorizes CHIP through September 2013 and provides enough funding to cover an additional 4 million uninsured children across the country. In New Hampshire, it’s estimated that over two-thirds of our uninsured children are eligible for either Medicaid or SCHIP. This Senate legislation increases funding for outreach so we can identify eligible children and enroll them, streamlines the sign-up process, provides incentives to states that achieve enrollment benchmarks, and provides enough funding to cover every eligible child in New Hampshire.
For those who are as concerned about our mounting national debt as I am, the costs of this bill are fully offset through an increase in federal tobacco tax. Further, it is simply more cost effective for children to get preventive health care than to be treated in an emergency room or to suffer permanent conditions from lack of care.
Today, more than 76,000 children in New Hampshire have health coverage, either through Medicaid or the CHIP program.
But, I know we can do better. All children need regular checkups. All children need medicine. All children deserve a shot at preventing disease later in life. And all families need to know they can provide for their kids without going into insurmountable debt.
I want to thank Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley for their leadership on this critical legislation. I am pleased that the Senate is considering this very important legislation so early in the 111th Congress. I believe it reflects our commitment to the children of this country and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.