New Jersey Defies President on SCHIP

Published November 1, 2007

Though the conflict between President George W. Bush and Congress over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was still being waged at press time–the program was set to expire if not reauthorized by September 30–New Jersey announced it will expand the program to include middle-income families, no matter what happens at the federal level.

At issue is whether to reauthorize the program, created 10 years ago to cover children of the working poor; at what level to fund it; and whom to include under its umbrella. Some federal legislators would like to increase SCHIP funding by about $50 billion total over the next five years and to extend the program’s reach to include middle-income adults.

Many experts say doing so would be a preliminary move toward a completely government-run health care system. Bush agreed, declaring this summer he would veto any bill that increases the program’s funding by more than $5 billion total over the next five years and isn’t targeted to children.

In mid-August, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services backed that up with a letter to states saying they must restrict SCHIP to exclude children whose families earn more than 2.5 times the federal poverty level, or $51,625 for a family of four.

Governors Defiant

That news came as a blow to New York, where Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) has made covering all children statewide under the program a high priority–one which, if achieved, would give New York the highest SCHIP funding nationwide.

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) took the news as a challenge, saying outright the Garden State will not obey federal rules.

In a September 13 letter to Bush, Corzine claimed the federal rules are “onerous.” New Jersey, he said, will continue to cover children in families earning up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level ($72,275 for a family of four) and will file a lawsuit challenging the rules.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto told The Washington Post for a September 14 story New Jersey can use its own funds to cover children ineligible for the federal program–but when it comes to SCHIP, “We hope that New Jersey would focus on the core mission of this program.”

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.