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One of the four is already uninsured

Herod in D.C.
GOP to SCHIP Kids: Screw Off

The House failed by 13 votes to override Mr. Bush’s veto of the renewal of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. As unconscionable acts, and this administration has an encyclopedia’s worth, this one ranks in the first circle. The 154 House Republicans and two Democrats voting to prevent a veto override were just doing their collaborating worst to go along with the administration’s betrayal. They did so based on a disinformation campaign as cynical, and I think criminal considering the consequences, as the lies marshaled to drum-beat for war on Iraq in 2003. Let’s look at a few facts.

The Clinton administration created SCHIP in 1997, with Congress earmarking nearly $40 billion over 10 years for the program, or about $4 billion a year. To put that in context: we’re spending slightly more than $4 billion every 10 days in the collective follies known as the “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, not counting an additional billion every ten days spent domestically through the taxdollar incinerator known as the Department of Homeland Security.

When SCHIP became law in 1997, there were some 43 million Americans uninsured. The figure is closer to 50 million today despite the program—which is to say that it would have been close to 55 million without it: Last year, 6 million children were enrolled in SCHIP. The figure should be higher. But spending is capped by state, making it difficult for many states to expand coverage. The most recent Census data shows that there were approximately 9.4 million children without health insurance in 2006, an increase of 710,000 children over 2005.


   

“The percent of children without health coverage increased for the second consecutive year after years of decreases following the enactment of SCHIP in 1997,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Approximately two-thirds of uninsured children are eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP, but not enrolled.” In other words, 6 million more children should be enrolled but aren’t. That’s not the children from $85,000 households. That’s the children up to a maximum of 200 percent of the poverty line. That means a household of four making no more than $40,000 a year.

A word about those “middle class” households: a household of eight—mom, dad, six children—making $67,000 is still under 200 percent of the poverty line. So much for Bush’s claim that he’s trying to keep freeloaders off the SCHIP rolls. What he’s trying to do is quite simple: keep yet another successful health care program from becoming more successful, because if it did, it would in fact be one more vote for universal insurance, but for government-regulated universal insurance (the only way to make the system work).

Note to right-wing ideologues: By government-regulated, I don’t mean government-run. Take the Florida model. This is the state, come to think of it, whose health care program for poor children (Healthy Kids) SCHIP is modeled after. It’s a public-private partnership. The government provides Healthy Kids coverage for families making up to 150 percent of the poverty line for $15 to $20 a month in premiums (usually), plus co-pays. Beyond that, the families buy private insurance at a fixed rate through the program. In other words, when I take my children to the doctor on my Florida Health Care insurance plan provided by my employer, I’ll never know if the child sitting next to me, who’s also insured through Florida Health Care, is an SCHIP kid or a kid like mine, insured through work.

I’m not saying this is my favorite way to run a universal insurance program. I consider the involvement of private insurance in health care the costliest nuisance in the whole equation, and a retardant on quality care and medical progress. But the common notion that any state-subsidized child-insurance program is therefore government run is entirely false.

About those $85,000 households getting SCHIP: Not entirely false. But they’re exclusively in New York State , which has chosen to exceed the federal allowances for SCHIP enrollment — and do it with its own money. It’s also true that most states aren’t spending their entire annual federal allocation for SCHIP. But that has a lot to do with state policies making it more difficult to enroll. Again, Florida is an example. For all its good history starting this sort of program (under Democratic leadership), the Republican sweep in the state has drastically turned back the clock on SCHIP. Enrollment in this state “declined for two consecutive years as,” the Kaiser foundation reports, “a result of a legislative decision to cap program growth through the use of designated enrollment periods and new documentation requirements during the application and renewal processes. Between June 2004 and June 2005, Florida ’s SCHIP enrollment fell 39 percent, prompting the Florida legislature to reverse some of the prior restrictions for fiscal year 2006.” It’s not just the Bush in Washington who wages war on this program. His brother here, now gone, did his share.

Whatever the reactionaries say about SCHIP, certain facts can’t be denied: the ranks of the uninsured is growing. It ought to be unacceptable. SCHIP is among the programs that cut into those ranks. Its expansion may benefit more than its intended poor. So what? It’s not a nefarious benefit. It’s a benefit that ought to be universal, whether the family is making $10,000 a year or $1 million. If a few rich families take advantage of the benefit, it wouldn’t be the first time the wealthy are free-loading on government’s back. The 2003 and 2001 Bush tax cuts are almost exclusively a gift to wealthy freeloaders, on a scale dwarfing SCHIP by the trillion. For that matter, Halliburton and a slew of other contractors freeload on American taxpayers in Iraq and Afghanistan in proportions far exceeding any amount SCHIP will cost in any given year, and to what end? None that benefits the United States . At $7 billion a year (the amount Democrats are pushing) SCHIP is a virtually insignificant cost in the $2.5 trillion federal budget, with benefits incalculable in dollar terms.

Bush didn’t veto excess spending. He’s been the president of excess and recklessness for the last seven years. He vetoed an idea he finds abhorrent: universal health care, the kind of care that could in the slightest way cut into private insurers’ profits and market share, the kind of care that shows the private insurance sector to be the obstacle that it so effectively is. And Bush did it at the expense of millions of children’s care. Brilliant.

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