A new bill introduced to the U.S. Senate seeks to extend Medicaid coverage to all children by automatically enrolling them in the federal health insurance program.
Announcing the draft measure on Friday, Bob Casey, the senior Democratic senator for Pennsylvania, said in a statement: “As Americans, it is our solemn obligation to ensure every child has the support they need to reach their full potential.”
At present, minors are only eligible for Medicaid if their family’s income is 138 percent of the federal poverty level in many places, which in the 48 contiguous states is $34,307 for a family of three. Families earning more can receive lower-cost coverage for their children, but there are many who still struggle to afford that coverage.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), around 4.2 percent of children in America are currently uninsured, equating to approximately 3.12 million minors.
“Too many of our kids are struggling to stay healthy because their families can’t afford the care they need,” Casey said.
Under the proposed bill, children would be automatically signed up at birth and would remain eligible for health insurance until they turn 18, though parents would have the ability to opt-out if they already have coverage for their family through other means.
Casey noted a “willingness” to provide health care coverage to children during the coronavirus pandemic when costs were covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. HHS states that 700,000 children have gained health coverage since 2020.
Newsweek reached out to Casey’s office via email for comment on Thursday.
Responding to the draft measure, Becky Ludwick, Pennsylvania Partnership for Children vice president for public policy, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the change would be “transformative” for child health care, adding that it would mean “we would not see children unnecessarily falling out of coverage when they don’t need to.”
However, Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis at the free-market Commonwealth Foundation think tank, told the newspaper that having federal insurance “doesn’t guarantee you access” to health care over those with private medical insurance.
The bill was introduced to the Senate on September 14 and referred to the Democrat-led finance committee.
However, even if it is passed by the Senate—which has a slim Democrat majority—it is likely to face strong opposition in the Republican-led House, where GOP leadership has called for less government spending.
In May, the United States teetered on the brink of default amid a standoff between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden over raising the debt ceiling, which was secured with a last-minute agreement and passed by the House despite a rebellion by more conservative representatives.
The deal capped spending in areas other than defense, including a $10 billion reduction in the mandatory spending budget, which is mostly constituted by Social Security and Medicaid.
McCarthy now faces another looming funding battle to secure a federal budget deal that appeases both conservative and moderate Republicans before the government is forced into shutdown at the end of the month.