Battle Over Kids’ Insurance Bodes Badly for Broader Reform
With the Senate Finance Committee expected to begin marking up the State Children's Health Insurance Program reauthorization legislation on Tuesday, some health care experts are saying that a "brewing battle" over the scale of reauthorization "does not bode well for broader efforts to stem escalating medical costs and help those without health insurance" in the U.S., Reuters reports (Dixon, Reuters, 7/16).
SCHIP expires on Sept. 30. Committee members on Friday finalized a bipartisan agreement that would increase five-year funding for the program from $25 billion to $60 billion. The plan -- negotiated by committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and committee members Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) -- would increase the federal cigarette tax from 39 cents to $1 per pack to fund an expansion of SCHIP.
However, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto on Saturday said that President Bush's senior advisers "will certainly recommend a veto of this proposal. And there is no question that the president would veto it" (California Healthline, 7/16).
Children's health advocates have had mixed reactions to the compromise.
First Focus President Bruce Lesley said that the compromise is a "serious setback" for the goal of insuring all U.S. children.
However, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities senior fellow Edwin Park said that the proposal was "very well targeted" at uninsured children. Park cited a Congressional Budget Office estimate that two-thirds of children that would be covered under the bill currently are uninsured, while one-third likely would switch from private health coverage (Johnson, CongressDaily, 7/16).
The Hill reports that failure to reauthorize and expand the program "could provide Democratic and Republican candidates next year -- presidential and congressional -- with stinging talking points."
Democrats "could blame" Bush and his allies in Congress for "denying" health care to children of low-income workers, according to The Hill.
Families USA President Ron Pollack said Democratic presidential candidates would "make enormous hay with that failure."
However, Republicans could point to SCHIP as "another issue on which the new majority failed to govern" if an expansion is smaller in scale or if funding is kept at its current level, The Hill reports.
Former Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said, "If Democrats aren't successful, here's yet again an unsuccessful attempt that overreached." Thomas added that Democrats "may want to make a bunch of points [on SCHIP] and wait until the November '08 election" to take action (Young, The Hill, 7/17).
Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that the debate over SCHIP reauthorization is "a really bad sign" for future health care reforms. Altman asked, "If they can't agree in Washington on covering kids, how are they going to agree on a much more challenging health care reform?" (Reuters, 7/16).
- Baltimore Sun: "Congress must overrule" Bush, who has voiced opposition to the bipartisan plan by making "bromides about federalized medicine" and the "absurd suggestion that the working poor could afford private health insurance if only they got better tax treatment," a Sun editorial states. "Bush makes himself look hopelessly out of touch on this issue, even with GOP stalwarts," the editorial adds (Baltimore Sun, 7/17).
- Long Island Newsday: "With soaring costs pushing private medical plans ever further beyond the reach of millions of families, Washington's goal should be to provide access to coverage for all of the nation's children," a Newsday editorial states. The editorial notes that Bush's plan would "add $5 billion, less than what's needed just to continue covering existing SCHIP beneficiaries," concluding, "Washington should be helping to expand coverage, not to curtail it" (Long Island Newsday, 7/17).
- New Republic: "Bush and his allies object that, for every 10 people who gain insurance through SCHIP expansions, between two and five fewer will get private insurance -- since employers, particularly those with low-income workers, will be less likely to offer coverage once the public alternative is available," a New Republic editorial states. "But this hardly matters as long as the net effect is an expansion of insurance -- which clearly is the case here, as the Congressional Budget Office recently concluded," according to the editorial (New Republic, 7/16).
- Orlando Sentinel: "Enacting the Senate plan would not preclude the president and Congress from taking free-market steps to help more Americans buy health insurance," a Sentinel editorial states. The editorial concludes, "But it would be wrong for Mr. Bush to hold the plan -- and millions of children -- hostage in the meantime" (Orlando Sentinel, 7/17).
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Unfortunately, President Bush has put on ideological blinders and can't see the kids who need help," a Post-Gazette editorial states. "For the ideologues," the issue is not about uninsured children; it is "about taxes and a greater role for the government in covering the health care needs of Americans," according to the editorial (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/17).
Washington Post: The Bush administration "is picking an unnecessary, and unnecessarily ideological, argument over the program's reauthorization," a Post editorial states. The editorial concludes, "The risk of leaving children uninsured strikes us as greater than the risk of shifting costs to the government" (Washington Post, 7/17).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on the debate over SCHIP reauthorization. The segment includes comments from Baucus; Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund; and Bush (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/17). Audio of the segment is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.