Low-income children deserve support

Last year, 6.6 million children from families between 100 percent and 200 percent of the poverty level received health insurance through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, and I fully support increasing this effort by 60 percent over the next five years.

But instead, Democrats in Congress want to radically expand the program by as much as 300 percent — admitting higher-income families and adults, and passing the cost on to taxpayers. Like the president and many of my colleagues, I cannot support this scheme. Here is why:

• The original intent of SCHIP was to provide health insurance coverage assistance to low-income families that didn’t qualify for Medicaid. Instead of focusing on low-income children, the current bill allows families with incomes as high as $83,000 to qualify, effectively tripling the size of the program.

• The current bill purports to cost $71 billion over 10 years, but actually includes a budget gimmick to make the bill appear to be paid for, by reducing spending on SCHIP by 80 percent in 2013. The true cost of the bill is more than $120 billion, not the $71 billion the authors claim.

• Under the current bill, many of the dollars spent on the program would be going to cover children who already have insurance. In fact, of the 4.4 million children expected to be added to the SCHIP program over the next five years, 1.6 million already have private sector coverage.

The current bill also eliminates the administration’s effort to set accountability benchmarks to ensure states improve their efforts to get low-income kids on the program, includes a special earmark for Michigan that takes $200 million away from the SCHIP program next year, and includes language that will make it more difficult to ensure that illegal immigrants can’t enroll in Medicaid.

Equally troubling is that this bill is another step in the majority’s march toward the nationalization of U.S. health care. I have long opposed health care being in the hands of the federal government, as we have seen this system in other countries lead to rationing of health-care services, a significant reduction in investment in medical and pharmaceutical research and development, and a hike in taxes to pay for it.

Rather than changing the original purpose of the program, we must continue to work to cover those children who are eligible but not yet enrolled in the SCHIP program. Therefore, I continue to support a reasonable compromise between the president and the Democrats that refocuses the SCHIP program on low-income children, not adults.

Currently, the New Hampshire’s Healthy Kids program covers children in families at 300 percent of poverty, making approximately $61,950 a year. Under this compromise, New Hampshire would continue to receive 65 cents from the federal government for every dollar spent to provide coverage for children in families under 235 percent of poverty ($48,527 a year). However, if New Hampshire chooses to cover children from families with higher incomes, then the state would receive a slightly reduced 50 percent match from the federal government.

Now is not the time to play politics with children’s lives. We need to work together in a bipartisan way to reauthorize the SCHIP program for the people it is intended to benefit — low-income children who need and deserve our support.

Judd Gregg, the senior U.S. senator from New Hampshire, is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Categories: Opinion