In the East Room of the White House yesterday, President Obama signed into law a $32.8-billion package to provide health coverage for millions of children across the country. Set to expire March 31, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) re-authorization legislation provides funding to states for comprehensive health care coverage of low-income children and pregnant women. The legislation expands the program to include 4.1 million more low-income children over four and a half years. Funding will come from an increase in the federal tobacco tax, which is expected to generate $31.3 billion in the next four years.

"As many states grapple with mounting budget gaps and unemployment rates continue to rise," said the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) "this program is a welcome resource to ensure families have access to health care when they need it most."

"Now we're protecting our nation's most important asset-our children. Whether a child breaks a bone or needs a transplant, coverage is available to those families that can't otherwise afford the skyrocketing costs of health care," said New Jersey Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., a practicing physician and past chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures' Health Committee

The National Conference of State Legislatures urged Congress and the president to pass the SCHIP re-authorization. States lawmakers identified several priorities to be included in the legislation that will expand coverage for existing beneficiaries as well as boost efforts to cover more children, including those who are currently eligible but not enrolled.

"State lawmakers know firsthand the challenge of providing health care for those most in need," said North Carolina Speaker of the House Joe Hackney, NCSL president. "This 'next generation' of the children's health insurance program gives states flexibility to design benefit programs that reach as many children as possible, and it allows states to leverage public and private dollars in an innovative way."