Sen. John Kerry Announces Bill To Provide Health Insurance to All U.S. Children
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Tuesday unveiled his plan to provide health insurance coverage to all U.S. children by repealing tax cuts for high-income residents and expanding Medicaid and SCHIP programs, the Boston Globe reports.
Under the bill, states would be encouraged to provide health insurance to residents ages 21 and younger whose families' incomes currently make them ineligible for Medicaid or SCHIP programs. The federal government would pay 66% of health care costs for children in families with incomes of up to 300% of the poverty level and fully fund Medicaid coverage for children in families at or below the federal poverty level.
Kerry said an increase of federal funding would save states $10 billion annually, and he predicted that all states would join the program. The bill, which is projected to cost $22 billion annually, would be funded by repealing recent income tax cuts for residents earning more than $350,000 per year. Kerry also proposed tax breaks for higher-income parents who insure their own children (Klein, Boston Globe, 1/26).
Kerry's plan -- the "Kids Come First Act" -- also would require parents to ensure that children younger than 19 years old have health insurance, and states would be required to make Medicaid enrollment automatic and continuous (Straub, Boston Herald, 1/26).
Kerry said he will introduce a broader version of his plan later in the term to expand insurance coverage beyond children.
Kerry said the number of uninsured children in the United States is "unacceptable" and providing coverage for them "has to be priority number one."
He said, "I haven't had a place to work directly as I can now" through his position on the Senate Finance Committee, adding, "[N]or have I had sort of a national voice to be able to apply to it. ... You can't go out there for two years and be in people's living rooms -- and their restaurants and their barns and their VFW halls -- and have the kind of interaction that I've been privileged to have, and not come back energized and reinforced in what this is all about. This is not politics. ... A lot of people in this country are hurting."
Kerry said he will start trying to work with Republicans to "find a starting place to find a common ground" (Boston Globe, 1/26). However, he said if Republicans "choose" tax cuts for high-income residents over health care coverage for children, "Then that's an issue we take to the country" (Boston Herald, 1/26).
Kerry said he will "gin up energy" for the bill by speaking across the country, adding that he has signed up 300,000 "citizen co-sponsors" through e-mail.
According to the Globe, "Republicans are already expressing concerns about the bill, particularly given the current record budget deficit," and it "is not expected to get a warm reception in the Republican-led Senate."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that children's health insurance is a popular issue in the Senate, but the budget might make providing the coverage difficult. He added, "[Kerry] obviously has an elevated reputation, and that matters around here. It's going to increase his influence in the Senate" (Boston Globe, 1/26).