President Barack Obama signed into law late Wednesday afternoon new legislation that will allow four million more U.S. children to get government-sponsored health coverage.
Obama acted right after the House, by a vote of 290-135, approved spending an additional $32.8 billion for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the Associated Press reported. The program, with about 7 million children now enrolled, includes children whose family income is too high for Medicaid but whose families have difficulty affording private insurance.
And, for the first time, the new law also permits states to cover legal immigrants -- among them, children under 21 and pregnant women.
Previously, legal immigrants had been barred from Medicaid and SCHIP for five years after arriving in the United States. The states may now cover those immigrants without the five-year delay, according to The New York Times.
The U.S. Senate passed the SCHIP measure last week. To cover adding the additional children, the measure raises federal excise taxes on cigarettes by 62 cents, to $1.01 a pack, the wire service said.
Former President George W. Bush twice vetoed similar legislation.