Page last updated at 00:05 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

Obama signs child health care law

US President Barack Obama signs the SCHIP bill in the White House
Mr Obama said the bill was a key step towards universal health care

US President Barack Obama has signed a bill to expand government-funded health insurance to cover an additional four million children.

He acted just hours after the House of Representatives backed the $32.8bn (23bn) expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Programme.

US senators passed the same legislation last week.

It is seen as a victory for Mr Obama, a day after two politicians withdrew their nominations to government posts.

Tom Daschle, who was to become the new health secretary, and Nancy Killefer, Mr Obama's choice to oversee budget and spending reform, both withdrew when questions were raised about their tax affairs.

Tobacco tax raised

"This is good. This is good," Mr Obama said before a ceremony to sign the bill.

We fulfil one of the highest responsibilities that we have, to ensure the health and well-being of our nation's children
US President Barack Obama

The president said that adding four million uninsured children to the State Children's Health Insurance Programme (SCHIP), which currently insures some seven million children, was an important step towards fulfilling his promise of universal health care in America.

"We fulfil one of the highest responsibilities that we have, to ensure the health and well-being of our nation's children," he said.

George W Bush (file picture)
George W Bush vetoed similar legislation in 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also welcomed the legislation, saying: "This is the day we have worked for, prayed for, hoped for."

Most of the additional $32.8bn needed to pay for SCHIP's expansion will be generated by raising the federal tobacco tax.

Opponents of the bill had argued that it would move more than two million children who currently get private insurance through their parents' employers into government-funded care.

They also said the additional spending would run up big bills for the future.

In 2007, President George W Bush twice vetoed similar bills.

Most of the children who qualify for coverage are in families whose income is well under $42,400 - which is twice the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Some US states have expanded their programmes to cover families with incomes up to $63,600, or three times the poverty level.

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