Democratic Leadership Postpones SCHIP Vote

Published December 1, 2008

Congressional leaders have decided to postpone a vote on legislation pertaining to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program until 2009, when a new president will be in office and veto-proof majorities could be in place in both houses of Congress.

Attempts to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion were vetoed twice in the 110th Congress, both occurring in late 2007. President George W. Bush (R) called the legislation “a step toward government-run health care” at the time.

Returning in 2009

The third attempt at expanding the controversial program, which will be introduced in January according to sources in the House of Representatives, will seek to use revenue from higher tobacco taxes to fund expanded SCHIP eligibility.

“A very large battle over SCHIP expansion will likely be fought next year,” said Devon Herrick, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. “The reason this is a step towards government-run health care is that 77 percent of children in families earning between 200 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level already have private coverage.

“For families earning between 300 and 400 percent FPL, 89 percent already have private coverage,” Herrick continued. “Between 50 and 75 percent of past taxpayer-funded insurance expansions have crowded out private coverage, and the same will happen here if Congress succeeds in expanding SCHIP.”

Not Reducing Uninsurance

“This issue is really whether we want to fully fund a program intended for the needy or want to expand it to include couples who earn 300 percent above the poverty line,” said Carl Tate, a former U.S. Department of Commerce official during the Bush administration.

Expanding SCHIP wouldn’t reduce the number of uninsured children but would simply cause families to switch from private insurance to SCHIP, says Kalese Hammonds, a health care policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Every time we make more people eligible for government programs, we get one step closer to a government-run health care system,” Hammonds said. “President Bush is right to resist expanding SCHIP. Studies show that expanding government programs does little to actually reduce the number of uninsured.

“Instead, they take a large number of children who were previously covered by private health insurance and enroll them in a government program,” Hammonds concluded.

Herrick agreed. “Expanding eligibility for government coverage will mostly result in people dropping private coverage to take advantage of public coverage.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.