Imagine a popular program that has existed for 10 years with bipartisan support, providing health insurance to about 6 million low-income children. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is up for reauthorization this year and Congress is debating how to extend the hope of coverage to 9 million children who are currently uninsured, while protecting coverage for the 6.6 million children who depend on SCHIP to see a doctor. But SCHIP is caught in the middle of a political battle—between a bipartisan majority in Congress and the nation’s governors on one hand and an isolated, defiant ideological president on the other.
A Senate bill was approved by the Finance Committee last week by a 17-4 vote, with six Republicans and all 11 Democrats supporting an increase of $35 billion over five years. Several leading conservatives were strong supporters. The New York Times reportedSenator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) as saying, “I am proud to support this important bill, which will provide health insurance coverage to approximately four million more children who would otherwise be uninsured.” According to the Los Angeles Times, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the original authors of the program, said: “It doesn’t make me comfortable to advocate for such a large increase in spending. But it’s important to note that [the program] has been tremendously successful. And one of the lessons we’ve learned is that it’s going to cost more to cover additional kids.” The bill is scheduled to be on the Senate floor next week.
For its part, the House is proposing legislation that would provide an increase of $50 billion, which would cover an estimated 5 million more children. Both versions would be at least partially funded by an increase in the federal tax on tobacco products.
Last weekend at their annual summer meeting, the National Governors Association sent a letter to the president and Congress. While not specifically supporting either bill, the governors said: “While we have not taken a position on the actual overall funding amount or the sources of revenue used as offsets, we are encouraged by the Senate Finance Committee’s efforts to move a bipartisan reauthorization bill that provides increased funding … ”
And President Bush? He says he’ll veto either version. “It’s a way to encourage people to transfer from the private sector to government health-care plans. … I think it’s wrong, and I think it’s a mistake.” A White House spokesman added that the president’s advisers “will certainly recommend a veto” of the Senate committee’s proposal because of its size and the plan to fund it with a tax increase. The administration’s plan for only an additional $5 billion wouldn’t even cover all the children currently insured.
Remember, this is a president who is content with spending $12 billion a month on war, yet finds spending $7-10 billion a year on making sure that kids have health insurance “wrong” and “a mistake.” I can’t imagine a more clear case of utterly distorted priorities. Compassionate conservatism has been on life support for the last several years of this administration. President Bush’s threatened veto of SCHIP will officially pronounce it dead.
We have been working with the PICO National Network, one of the leading groups organizing for SCHIP, to remind policymakers that children’s health coverage is a moral issue for the faith community. Father John Baumann, executive director of PICO, had this reaction to the president’s threat: “(SCHIP) is a highly successful program that has always had bipartisan support as a pragmatic way to help states reach children who are not poor enough for Medicaid but whose parents cannot obtain coverage for their children at work. SCHIP is a popular and successful program that should not be dragged down into a partisan political fight over health care ideology.”
I agree. For far too long, Americans in poverty have been trapped in a partisan debate. Now, a strongly bipartisan program that works is trapped by a president who sees only ideology. Call your senators and members of Congress, and urge them to support the necessary expansion of SCHIP for America’s kids. It’s the right thing to do.
Your congressional members need to hear that as a person of faith you believe that no child should go without treatment or depend on an emergency room for care because they lack health coverage. If we are judged by how we treat the least among us, we must make sure that all our children have coverage. Call your members of Congress today at (877) 367-5235, a free number set up by our friends at PICO National Network.
Tell them that people of faith are counting on them to stand up for the millions of uninsured children in the U.S. SCHIP has successfully reduced the uninsured rate for children by one-third over the past decade. Now Congress needs to pass a strong SCHIP bill by a veto-proof majority to provide hope to the millions of children in America who still go to sleep at night without health coverage.
For more information and other ways to take action, please visit www.coverallchildren.org.