New Law Expands Health Care for Immigrant Children: A Preview of Health Care Reform Debate?

By Eduardo A. de Oliveira, EthnicNewz and FI2W reporter

SAUGUS, Mass. – Shocked, fearful, and helpless – that’s how Samuel Goncalves felt in 2007 shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 18.

Samuel, who immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil with his family, had no health insurance. Even though he was a legal immigrant, Goncalves didn’t qualify for Medicaid or any other government-run health program. He only had a green card for three years – not five, as federal law required back then.

The five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children to qualify for health assistance was removed last week as President Barack Obama signed into law the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act of 2009 (SCHIP). SCHIP will enable states to cover more than four million uninsured children from low-income families – including legal immigrant children – by 2013, while continuing coverage for seven million youngsters already covered by the program.

Obama signed SCHIP into law despite opposition from conservatives.

Obama signed SCHIP into law despite opposition from conservatives... and CNN's Lou Dobbs. (Image: Media Matters for America)

In Congress, the debate over SCHIP was considered by many to be a preview of the upcoming debate over health care reform. Although the U.S. invests about $2 trillion per year in health care, 45 million Americans remain uninsured.

“Even though we’re considered the wealthiest country on Earth, the health and well-being of Americas’ children is worse than that of every other developed country in the world,” said Charles Homer, pediatrician and C.E.O. of the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ), a Cambridge, Mass. based non-profit organization.

“This bill also provides states with funding for measuring the quality of service,” said Homer. “It not only insures that kids get in the door, but when they do, that the service is as good as it should be.”

For the past two years, NICHQ has worked with a pediatric national committee and pushed SCHIP with several leaders, such as Senator Evan Bayh (D.-Ind.).

SCHIP was first enacted in 1997, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. But the trail from conception to Congressional approval of the reauthorization bill last week was long and rocky. Since 2007, the House had voted on the proposal seven times. But it faced fierce resistance from Republicans like Iowa Representative Steve King, who denounced the bill as “a foundation stone for socialized medicine.” President Bush vetoed two versions of the bill approved by Congress. (more…)