Declining Surplus Threatens Reserve Fund for the Uninsured
The declining federal surplus could threaten a $28 billion reserve fund intended to provide coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, the Sacramento Bee reports. Earlier this year, Congress agreed to set aside the $28 billion, spread out over three years, as part of the fiscal year 2002 budget resolution. The measure, drafted by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), calls for the government to help millions of uninsured Americans obtain coverage through a combination of Medicaid and CHIP program expansions and tax deductions for individuals purchasing private insurance and for employers who help their low-income workers pay for private coverage. However, this year's projected surplus has decreased since Congress passed the budget resolution in the spring, partly due to President Bush's tax cut and the slowing economy. While the Congressional Budget Office projected in April that the overall 2001 surplus, including the Medicare and Social Security trust fund, would be around $280 billion, White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels said he believes it could actually be as low as $160 billion. As a result, some lawmakers say the funding will not be there to pay for coverage expansions. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants Congress to "distribute the first installment of uninsured fund money" while the surplus is still there. But while Senate Democrats might back such a plan, the Bee reports that "House Republicans say they're not going to concur until the surplus picture is clearer" (O'Rourke, Sacramento Bee, 8/7).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.