President Bush Vows To Veto Kids’ Health Insurance Bill
President Bush on Wednesday said he will veto Senate legislation that would increase funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years because expanding the program would lead to more people dropping private health coverage, the Baltimore Sun reports (West, Baltimore Sun, 7/19).
Senate Finance Committee members on Friday finalized a bipartisan agreement on SCHIP reauthorization that would increase five-year funding for the program from $25 billion to $60 billion by raising the federal cigarette tax from 39 cents to $1 per pack. SCHIP expires on Sept. 30.
Under the plan -- negotiated by committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and members Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) -- the 6.6 million children currently enrolled in SCHIP would continue to receive benefits, and an additional 3.3 million uninsured children could be enrolled in the program. Bush has proposed a $5 billion increase over five years for SCHIP, which would increase the program's total five-year funding to $30 billion (California Healthline, 7/18). The committee on Thursday is scheduled to consider the plan (CongressDaily, 7/18).
Bush on Wednesday told reporters that the plan amounted to a "massive expansion of the federal role" in health care that eventually would lead to "less quality care and rationing over time." He added, "I believe government cannot provide affordable health care" (Baltimore Sun, 7/19).
In an interview with the Washington Post, Bush said, "I support the initial intent of the program," adding, "My concern is that when you expand eligibility ... you're really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government" (Lee, Washington Post, 7/19).
Bush said, "If Congress continues to insist upon expanding health care through the SCHIP program -- which, by the way, would entail a huge tax increase for the American people -- I'll veto the bill" (Reichmann, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/18).
In addition, Bush said he thinks "it's going to be very important for our allies on Capitol Hill to hear a strong, clear message from me that expansion of government in lieu of making the necessary changes to encourage a consumer-based system is not acceptable" (Washington Post, 7/19).
Baucus said, "We are preserving [SCHIP] for kids and targeting the lowest-income children for outreach and enrollment," adding, "The president should join the effort to build on the success of [SCHIP] and get health care to more American kids in need now" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/18).
House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said he was "bewildered" by Bush's opposition to the bipartisan plan. Emanuel said, "This is the chance for him to finally be a uniter and not a divider. You have consensus across party and ideology, and a unity on the most important domestic issue, health care -- except for one person" (Washington Post, 7/19).
Meanwhile, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), a former budget director for the Bush administration, on Monday at an event sponsored by the Galen Institute said he agrees with the president, even though Daniels recently signed a bill that provides health coverage to children in families with annual incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level. Daniels said that he agreed to the 300% benchmark to appease Democrats in the state Legislature, according to CQ HealthBeat.
Daniels added, "I'd like to see SCHIP renewed and at the same level much like the one we have now and the one the president recommends. It's senseless and suspicious to subsidize wealthy people through SCHIP. There must be some other motive" (Phillips, CQ HealthBeat, 7/18).
In related news, the Partnership for Quality Care, a coalition of union and health care managers, on Friday is launching a $1.2 million television advertising campaign in support of increasing the tobacco tax to expand SCHIP.
The ad will run for two weeks in congressional districts represented by eight Democratic and five Republican House members. The Democratic lawmakers are Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Harry Mitchell (Ariz.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.). The Republicans are Chris Cannon (Utah), Phil English (Pa.), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Thomas Reynolds (N.Y.) and Heather Wilson (N.M.).
The 30-second ad states that nine million children do not have health insurance and that 1.5 million children start smoking each year. A cigarette tax increase "will mean better care for kids ... [a]nd fewer smokers to care for," a nurse in the ad says (Johnson/Wegner, CongressDaily, 7/19).
- Boston Globe: "The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee have given President Bush the chance to leave a positive legacy on health care," a Globe editorial states. However, Bush has been making "deeply misguided arguments ... against the proposal," the editorial states, adding that he "should accept their compromise" (Boston Globe, 7/19).
- Morton Kondracke, Roll Call: The "most obvious explanation" for Bush supporting the $400 billion Medicare drug benefit but opposing the SCHIP expansion is that "[s]eniors vote, kids don't," Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, writes in an opinion piece. This explanation "explodes any vestiges of Bush's claim to be a compassionate conservative," Kondracke writes (Kondracke, Roll Call, 7/19).
WAMU's "Diane Rehm Show" on Thursday featured a discussion on SCHIP reauthorization with Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Executive Director Robert Greenstein, Public Justice Center attorney Laurie Norris and Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner (Rehm, "Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 7/19). Audio of the segment will be available online following the broadcast. In addition, NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday included an opinion piece on SCHIP by NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr (Schorr, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/19). 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.