Promise a New Version Soon
It’s become a debate that has polarized the nation and brought Americans to the streets in protest.
On October 3rd, President Bush vetoed $35 billion for a five-year expansion of a children’s health bill that would have provided health insurance to cover 10 million low income uninsured children.
The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) funds coverage for 6.6 million children of families who earn too little to afford health insurance but too much to qualify for Medicaid, which the government offers to help the poor.
The monies raised would be paid by a tax on cigarettes ranging from 61 cents to $1 dollar per pack.
House Democrats promised they would campaign and get enough votes to override the veto but on October 18th, the bill fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to make the bill law overriding the president’s objection. It had previously passed the Senate with a two-thirds majority.
House Democrats plan a new version of the bill with goals of having 10 million children insured—goals that are “not negotiable” according to Representative Nancy Pelosi.
Facts about the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
Who is Eligible? Determined by the states. Most cap eligibility to families whose income is less than twice the government poverty level, or $41,228 for a family of four in 2006. New Jersey caps eligibility at 31/2 times the poverty level. In California, children can enroll in the Health Families program if their families earn less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or for a family of three, an annual income of $42,500. Altogether the Congressional Budget Office found roughly 3.8 million additional children would be added. About 6 million were served in 2006. One government study shows about 30% of eligible children are not even enrolled.
What Does it Cost? Currently the federal government spends $5 billion per year on SCHIP, or $25 billion over five years. That covers about 70 percent of its costs with states pitching in the rest. The expansion bill would have provided $12 billion from the federal government.
Who Would Fund it? The higher costs would come from a $1 federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes. Not surprisingly, eight Democratic lawmakers from North Carolina voted against the bill.
Its History: SCHIP was enacted the Republican Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1997, the program is designed to subsidize health coverage for families earning too much to qualify for Medicaid - the federal government health care plan for the poor - but not enough to afford private insurance.
The Fourth Veto of his Presidency
Having used his veto pen only to block federal research into embryonic stem cells and for a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq, Mr. Bush used his veto power a fourth time to veto
SCHIP. He later indicated he would be willing to offer more than the $5 billion he proposed as a compromise.
But Senate Democratic leaders said they had already compromised the funding down from $100 billion to $50 down to $35 billion and would not be willing to whittle down the amount any further. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Bush’s words were an ‘insult.”
“You cannot wring another ounce of compromise out of this,” Reid said. “The president, what he has done with his macho pen, is really hurt children. He thinks he can waltz in here with his secretary of Health and Human Services, and sweet-talk us - he can't. This is a man who is out of touch with reality.”
And some of Mr. Bush’s most vocal critics are fellow Republicans including Utah Senator Orrin Hatch who co-sponsored the children’s health insurance program in 1997. He believes it needs to be expanded today.” I think he (the president) has been given some pretty bad advice,” he said after the president’s veto.
There is some question if even the $35 bill would be enough to keep the program adequately funded. An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the program would require about $14 billion in new money over five years -- on top of the current $5 billion in annual funding -- merely to keep covering the same number of children, in part because of rising health-care costs.
In his radio address, October 6th, Bushed made the case that the spending sought by the Democrats is a step-toward government-run health care. And President Bush claimed that families making $83,000 would be eligible. New York had wanted to set eligibility at up to four times the poverty level but the Department of Health and Human Services rejected that plan this fall.
And while SCHIP is funded by the government, beneficiaries actually have private insurance contracted by their state.
The president’s veto brought protests to the street and public discourse over low income children. In Sarasota, Florida, Jill Jones, single mother of 10-year-old Alexus, told a crowd that without the Florida program, Health Kids, her daughter wouldn’t have health insurance.
"Taking away health care is neglecting our children," Jones said. "If you take away their doctor visits for coughs and colds, you end up paying for their hospital visits when they get pneumonia."
Jones was brought to face the media by Congressman Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican who said he intends to urge lawmakers and President Bush to come to some agreement on the legislation.
43 governors back the legislation including California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. He says his state program, Healthy Families, which covers 1.1 million, cannot take care of the increasing number of uninsured children. The legislation would provide insurance for another 607,000 children. The California governor has lobbied he president and federal government to expand funding.
SCHIP has across the board support. One survey shows 72 percent of Americans support the program.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned if defeated the GOP lawmaker’s votes on this issue would be a top conversation in House elections 2008.
The presidential veto comes at a time when President Bush sent a request to Congress for additional funding for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for next year of $189 billion. Many noted the expanded children health program at $60 billion over five years as a defining moment for an increasingly unpopular administration. Advocacy groups spent $1 million on a campaign to override the president’s veto.
"George Bush and his backers would rather send half a trillion to Iraq than spend a fraction of that here to keep our kids healthy," the ad says.