CHIPing Away at the Future

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This past Wednesday, December 12, President Bush vetoed Congresses’ latest version of the SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). Bush vetoed a previous version of SCHIP in October and in a letter , explained that the bill would move children with private health insurance to government coverage. The “move” is commonly referred to as “crowd out.” The vetoed bill, H.R. 976, did contain a crowd-out provision that said any state that covered children with a family income exceeding 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) would have to address the issue and implement a strategy to avoid “crowd out.” Additionally, Bush implied that H.R. 976 allowed for more adults in the SCHIP program and “raises taxes on working Americans.”

H.R. 976 called for $61.4 billion over five years, an increase of $36.2 billion over the current SCHIP law, and would have provided 4 million more people with health insurance over the 6 million the program currently insures. The increase in coverage would have been paid for by an increased tax on tobacco.

So, Congress went back to work and a bi-partisan bill was passed in the House, 265-142, and in the Senate, 64-30, (Click on the two previous links if you’d like to know how your representatives voted on the measures). The new bill would phase out coverage of non-pregnant childless adults by the end of 2008, require all states (not just those with coverage for children 300 percent over the FPL) to implement crowd-out strategies and would include stricter citizen documentation requirement, so that illegal immigrants would not qualify for SCHIP. For all of the changes, check out the Congressional Research Service report, delineating the difference between the two proposals.

The biggest similarity between the two bills is the cost, which remains at $61.4 billion over five years and covered by “working Americans” who smoke. Not surprisingly, Bush vetoed the newest SCHIP version with even his letter not changing too much. The president said that the latest bill was “essentially” the same as the first, but he still wanted to work with the Congress “on a bi-partisan basis, to reauthorize the SCHIP program…” Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, responded even before Bush actually made his veto calling it a “sad action” and vowing to fight until “10 million children in America have access to healthcare.”

So where does this leave the country? Some suggest that it’s time for the President and Congress to stop playing politics and pass some version of a bill, so that those that presently qualify to receive SCHIP still do. Others point out that the issue might not be resolved until the upcoming presidential election. And of course there is still a large majority of pols on both sides accusing each other of playing games with children’s health insurance (too many sites to post a hyperlink — just Google it and you’ll get the picture).

Bottom line? Far too many kids don’t have any sort of health insurance; it’s an issue that’s not going to go away and it’s time for leadership on both sides of the political spectrum to stop pointing fingers at each other and start pointing towards a future with healthy and insured — private or public — children.

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