On a mid-summer night, the Bush administration quietly announced it wouldn’t provide an additional $50 billion over 10 years to expand a national children’s health insurance program to cover middle-class kids, even though Congress has voted to do so. Bush took his cue from opponents of the legislation who falsely claim it’s a giant leap toward socialized medicine.
Bush has been trying for years to scrap or scale back the original State Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as SCHIP. Bush proposed spending $6.3 billion next year ($5.1 billion was allocated in 2007 with a shortfall of about $2 billion). In his order, the president said the cap on providing government-funded health insurance to children could not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or $51,625 of annual household income for a family of four, until 95 percent of all eligible families in a state were enrolled. More than 6.6 million children were covered by SCHIP last year, but nearly 9 million remain uninsured. In California, 1.39 million had coverage, but 1.36 million did not.
Since Congress authorized SCHIP in 1997, it has reduced the number of underinsured children in the U.S. by 24 percent by filling the gap between children of Medicaid (Medi-Cal) families and those with private insurance.
In California, SCHIP’s Healthy Families is a hybrid with not-for-profit and private insurers like Blue Cross, Health Net and Kaiser Permanente offering managed health care policies with monthly premiums up to $15 per child ($45 per family) and annual co-payments of $250 per family. In San Joaquin County, the public, nonprofit Health Plan of San Joaquin covers 47 percent of the enrollees in Healthy Families, or about 8,700 children age 18 and younger who are U.S. citizens. There are another 2,000 children uninsured and an unknown number of kids of middle-class families without health insurance in the country who would benefit from SCHIP.
Bush’s unwise edict will increase the financial pressure on emergency rooms and after-hour health clinics to handle the uninsured. To stay open, these health providers will have to raise their rates to the rest of us and our insurers. Either way, our wallets will take the blow.
We urge our congressional representatives to send a message to Bush by overriding his executive order and adopting a bill that allows expansion of insurance coverage but with continued eligibility restrictions for age and citizenship.