Congress Ready To Tackle Kids’ Health Insurance Legislation
The Senate on Monday will begin debate on legislation (S 1893) to reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, while the House is scheduled to begin debate later in the week on a separate bill (HR 3162) that would reauthorize the program and also make revisions to Medicare, the Los Angeles Times reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 7/30).
The Senate legislation would reauthorize SCHIP and increase the cigarette tax by 61 cents per pack to boost funding for the program by $35 billion over five years (Godfrey, Wall Street Journal, 7/27).
The House version would reduce payments to Medicare Advantage plans and increase the federal cigarette tax by 45 cents per pack to increase funding for SCHIP by $50 billion over five years (California Healthline, 7/27).
"Democrats are confident the overwhelming popularity of insuring millions of poor children will redound to their political favor -- and give them an easily explained accomplishment to tout over the August recess -- while Republicans, particularly in the Senate, have struggled to coalesce around an alternative," according to Roll Call (Dennis/Pierce, Roll Call, 7/30).
Republican lawmakers are questioning whether to support President Bush's "ideological line in the sand against growing calls for universal health care" because they do not "want to be tagged as opposing health care for children on the eve of an election year," McClatchy/Lexington Herald-Leader reports (Pugh, McClatchy/Lexington Herald-Leader, 7/30).
"House Democrats say moderate Republicans face a stark choice: stand with tobacco companies and insurance companies making obscene profits, or stand with kids, doctors and seniors," Roll Call reports.
Although both bills are expected to pass with significant majorities, Republicans "remain confident they will be able to sustain a threatened presidential veto," according to Roll Call (Roll Call, 7/30).
Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, "If Congress fails to agree on a common bill, the Democratic leadership will get blamed, and the story will be, 'Democrats can't get things done.'" Blendon added, "If it fails because of a presidential veto, then the Democrats can run, saying, 'The president stopped the expansion of coverage for children.' Almost every poll shows the public strongly supports the principle of covering more children."
John Rother, group executive officer of policy and strategy for AARP, said the House SCHIP legislation is a "package that helps kids, helps seniors and helps doctors and is opposed by the tobacco and insurance industries," adding, "Which side do you think the public is going to line up with?" (Los Angeles Times, 7/30).
Summaries of editorials and an opinion piece related to SCHIP appear below.
- Chicago Tribune: The "argument" over SCHIP "is not just about money -- although that's a big part of it -- but about overarching questions surrounding how far government should go to provide such coverage," according to a Tribune editorial. The editorial continues, "We like SCHIP as an incremental approach to provide health care for the most vulnerable population: poor children," adding, "We can support an expansion, but it shouldn't be part of a leap toward government-sponsored universal health coverage." It concludes that the "Senate has the right approach to cover poor kids responsibly" (Chicago Tribune, 7/29).
- Los Angeles Times: "With the nation apparently fighting a war on nicotine, it seems an odd time to look to cigarette taxes as a solution to our health care crisis, yet that's precisely what federal lawmakers are doing" by proposing a tobacco tax to fund SCHIP, according to a Times editorial. "Cigarette taxes are a smart way to cut down on smoking," but "one does have to wonder whom we're going to tax once all these anti-tobacco initiatives prompt the last smoker to kick the habit," the editorial continues, suggesting that a "Twinkie tax" for obese people might "be on the horizon." The Times concludes that "rather than sticking the bill to social outcasts for our short-term fixes, we could resign ourselves to the fact that our health care system isn't going to improve until everybody contributes" (Los Angeles Times, 7/28).
- New York Times: An SCHIP expansion is "hardly" a "foot in the door for some dark government design for socialized medicine," but rather a "needed boost for a proven joint federal-state effort that epitomizes voters' growing concern about the national neglect of health care coverage," according to a Times editorial. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who oppose an expansion of SCHIP, "may be on message at the White House, where President Bush is foolishly threatening a veto," but the lawmakers "seem way off message for the American public and even their own party caucuses," which are "rightly asking why they should oppose such a successful family values program," the editorial says (New York Times, 7/30).
- Wall Street Journal: SCHIP "sounds like the epitome of good government" because "[w]ho could be against health care for children?" according to a Journal editorial. It continues, "The answer is anyone who worries about one more middle-class taxpayer entitlement and a further slide to a government takeover of health care." The editorial concludes, "Republicans would be wise to support" SCHIP legislation by McConnell and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) that would "reach the remaining 689,000 uninsured children that SCHIP was intended to help," or they will "take one more step to returning to their historic minority party status as tax collectors for the welfare state" (Wall Street Journal, 7/30).
- David Broder, Washington Post: "Had Bush joined" the debate over the U.S. health care system "before his time in office had dwindled to 18 months and his approval scores slumped to Nixonian levels, the chances of something positive emerging would have been much greater," columnist Broder writes in a Post opinion piece. "What will probably happen is that Congress will pass" an SCHIP reauthorization bill "that will draw a veto -- and then the serious bargaining will begin" because "no one wants to see the program end," Broder writes. He continues that "if and when a compromise is reached, the larger issues of health care will remain," adding, "And that is why it is important that the presidential candidates in both parties take advantage of the opportunity being offered by a series of health care forums this fall." Broder notes that several organizations are sponsoring hour-long sessions at which a presidential candidate will present his or her health care ideas and then take questions from a panel of health policy journalists (Broder, Washington Post, 7/29).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Friday reported on SCHIP. The segment includes comments from former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.); Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.); Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.); and Patrick Morrissey, a health care lawyer and lobbyist (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/27).
Audio of the segment is available online.