HEALTH CARE REPORT: SCHIP vote set this week in Senate

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Beginning today, reporter Sean Lengell will provide a weekly look at health and health care issues on Capitol Hill.

SCHIP vote set this week in Senate

The Senate is expected to vote this week on legislation to expand a popular health care program for uninsured children, possibly providing Barack Obama with one of the first bill-signing duties of his presidency.

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday approved a $31.5 billion measure to expand the State Children’s Heath Insurance Program, or SCHIP, for another 4 1/2 years. The bill could hit the Senate floor and Mr. Obama could sign health care bill this week for a full vote as early as Wednesday, with a final version sent to Mr. Obama’s White House desk later this week.

The House passed a similar bill last Wednesday, and Mr. Obama has said he will sign the measure. SCHIP funding would expire at the end of March without congressional action.

The expansion, which would add about 4 million children to the 7 million already covered in the program, would provide Mr. Obama with a high-profile down payment on his promise of universal health care coverage.

The legislation calls for increasing the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents to $1 a pack to pay for the program.

Failing grades given over tobacco laws

The American Lung Association slapped the federal government and many states with failing grades in a new report that scores the strength of laws to protect people against tobacco-related illnesses.

The association’s State of Tobacco Control 2008, released last week, gives the federal government straight F’s for failing to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over tobacco products and funding for programs that help smokers kick the habit, and its cigarette tax policy.

The association also gave the federal government a D for signing but not submitting the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - the world’s first public health treaty, which was drafted in 2004 - to the Senate for ratification.

Many states fared even worse, with Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia earning straight F’s.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia so far have met the association’s 2006 smoke-free-air challenge although just two states - Iowa and Nebraska - passed strong anti-smoking laws in 2008.

“During these economically challenged times, it simply cannot be ignored that investing in tobacco prevention and cessation programs is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve our nation’s health while trimming the bottom line,” said Charles D. Connor, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association.

The full report can be viewed at www.stateoftobaccocontrol.org.

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