HHS Secretary Thompson Explains Decision To Back Fetus CHIP Coverage Rule
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday stated in a letter to senators that a final regulation issued last month by the Bush administration that makes fetuses eligible for CHIP program coverage is "more comprehensive" than a Senate bill (S 724) that would allow states the option of making pregnant women eligible for the program, CongressDaily/AM reports. Thompson was responding to a request from a group of senators who support the legislation that he explain why the administration last week withdrew its earlier support of the bill (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 10/16). Thompson last week said that the administration no longer backs the legislation because it would "duplicate" the rule issued by the administration. The rule extends CHIP coverage to fetuses by altering the definition of children to allow coverage "from the moment of conception." Under the rule, pregnant women, including undocumented immigrants, may obtain prenatal care for their fetuses. Supporters of the Senate bill say that the legislation is more comprehensive than the regulation because the bill would allow pregnant women to receive coverage for a full range of medical services, whereas the regulation would provide care only for conditions that immediately affect the health of the fetus. The senators also note that the bill would provide health coverage for the child for one year after birth, while the regulation might terminate coverage three months after birth (California Healthline, 10/11). In his response to the senators, Thompson said that pregnant women would not be denied services such as pain relief while the fetus was receiving treatment. He also stated that unlike the bill, the rule will cover medical care for all fetuses, including those of documented and undocumented immigrants. Thompson added that the rule provides more opportunities than the bill for states to receive enhanced federal matching funds for their CHIP programs.
A spokesperson for bill co-sponsor Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who last week said that he would hold up the nomination of White House health policy adviser Mark McClellan as FDA commissioner until Thompson explained the administration's actions, said that Thompson's letter is "not adequate enough" for Bingaman to release the official hold he has put on McClellan's nomination (CongressDaily/AM, 10/16). NPR's "NPR News" today reports that Bingaman "remains unsatisfied" with Thompson's explanation of his support for the rule and will "continue to block" McClellan's nomination, although Bingaman "does still hope to work the issue out" (Rovner, "NPR News," NPR, 10/16). The full segment is available RealPlayer 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.