WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama signed into law a bill expanding a popular health insurance program for children Wednesday, calling it a first step to healthcare reform.
"This is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American," Obama said before signing an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program to roughly 4.1 million children who currently aren't covered by health insurance. The bill extends the program until 2013.
The additional $35 billion in costs would be funded by a 62-cent increase in the federal tax on cigarettes, which was one of the differences between the Senate and House bills. The House version included a 61-cent per-pack tax hike.
"It is just one component of a broader effort to bring our healthcare system into the 21st century," Obama said of the state-run, federally funded program.
Obama used the signing ceremony to urge passage of his economic stimulus package. Healthcare initiatives contained in the stimulus package moving through Congress include computerization of medical records and extension of health insurance for the unemployed "so workers who lose their jobs don't lose their healthcare, too," he said.
The SCHIP bill also allows states to use federal funds to provide healthcare coverage to children and pregnant women who are in the country legally -- a provision most Republicans opposed -- amending current law that mostly bars legal immigrants from receiving State Children's Health Insurance Program coverage until they have been in the United States for five years.