California Health Care Reform Could Hinge on Kids’ Insurance Deal
President Bush's veto last week of compromise legislation to reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program could impair California efforts to expand health coverage to all children, the Sacramento Bee reports (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 10/7).
The bill vetoed by Bush would have reauthorized and expanded SCHIP by $35 billion over five years. Bush has proposed to expand the program by $5 billion over five years (California Healthline, 10/5).
Lawmakers in the House will vote on Oct. 18 to override the veto (Arnquist, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 10/9).
Meanwhile, the president and Congress agreed to temporarily extend funding for SCHIP until Nov. 16 while a compromise is negotiated.
Whether the veto is overturned will have a major impact on California, which accounts for almost one of every six SCHIP recipients nationwide. The program is known as Healthy Families in California.
The Schwarzenegger administration was counting on additional funding for Healthy Families to help cover the 800,000 uninsured children in California.
Peter Harbage, a consultant with the New America Foundation, said, "Healthy Families is a big part of health reform" for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Democratic lawmakers.
However, if funding remains at current levels, Healthy Families will run out of funding next summer, according to a study conducted by Harbage for the California HealthCare Foundation.
Even if Bush and Congress reach a temporary deal, the delay in full funding might force the program to limit enrollment this year, according to the Bee.
Lesley Cummings, who manages Healthy Families, said, "We never expected this because the (SCHIP) reauthorization had such bipartisan support" (Sacramento Bee, 10/7).
Gena Lewis, a physician at Children's Hospital Oakland, said that not expanding SCHIP will discourage uninsured families from seeking preventive care. She added, "Instead, they go to the emergency [department] when their kids are very sick" (Grady, Contra Costa Times, 10/8).
Health care reform proposals by Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders would expand eligibility for Healthy Families from 250% to 300% of the federal poverty level.
However, new regulations announced last month by the Bush administration would limit states' efforts to expand enrollment.
Sabrina Lockhart, spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, said the state will file a brief in support of a lawsuit filed by six other states challenging the new regulations (Sacramento Bee, 10/7).
Summaries of editorials and an opinion piece regarding SCHIP appear below.
- Bakersfield Californian: If the override of Bush's veto fails, "expect health care for lower-income children to become a major 2008 campaign issue," a Californian editorial states. "The most powerful nation on earth, and one of the wealthiest, is less a nation if it cannot provide the most essential of services to its weakest and most vulnerable people," according to the editorial (Bakersfield Californian, 10/6).
- Los Angeles Times: "At the level of [SCHIP] funding Bush is willing to accept," thousands of California children "would be left without insurance -- or in programs that increase the burden on taxpayers -- nine months into next year," a Times editorial states. "Every year after, coverage would lapse earlier and earlier" and "deepen California's health care crisis even as [Schwarzenegger] and Democrats attempt to cut a deal to expand coverage," the editorial states (Los Angeles Times, 10/8).
- Sacramento Bee: "Californians need to call lawmakers and tell them that insuring uninsured children is a high priority" before the House votes on whether to overturn President Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill, a Bee editorial states. Noting that 15 votes are needed in the House to overturn the veto, the editorial urges Gov. Schwarzenegger to "persuade all 19 California Republicans" in the House who voted against the bill to change their votes and override the veto (Sacramento Bee, 10/6).
- Stockton Record: If Congress cannot overturn the veto, "Democrats certainly will use this veto as a campaign issue against Republicans facing re-election in 2008," a Record editorial states. "It's a lose-lose situation for Bush and his party," according to the editorial. "More importantly, it's unnecessary. And harmful," the editorial states (Stockton Record, 10/8).
- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), San Luis Obispo Tribune: "I voted against the recent SCHIP bill in Congress and continue to oppose the bill as currently written because" it weakens safeguards against fraud and expands eligibility for the program to children from moderate-income households, McCarthy writes in a Tribune opinion piece. He calls for members of Congress "to work to find bipartisan compromise that we can all be proud of" (McCarthy, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 10/6).
- Daniel Weintraub, Sacramento Bee: "Bush could move toward his opponents by agreeing at least to fully fund" children who are eligible for SCHIP under current guidelines, Weintraub writes in his Bee column. "And the Democrats could concede Bush is right to try to focus first on the poorest children before subsidizing the middle class," according to Weintraub. "Those concessions ... would cool the rhetoric and return the debate to a civil discussion that might actually lead to an agreement," Weintraub concludes (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 10/7).