Both the House and Senate have been engaged in extensive debate over reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) prior to its expiration on September 30. Renewing SCHIP should have been a simple process because the concept of providing health coverage to low-income families has broad bipartisan support. But the majority on Capitol Hill made changes that would expand the program dramatically, increase taxes, and open the door for a European-style socialized medicine system.
The Wall Street Journal put it clearly: “SCHIP was supposed to help children from low-income families, but Democrats are now using the program to expand government control of health care and undermine private insurance.”
REAUTHORIZE SCHIP TO HELP NEEDY
I voted for SCHIP when it was created, and I support its reauthorization with a focus on helping children in needy families. Republicans advanced legislation to provide an 18-month extension with enough funding to cover the shortfalls some states like Mississippi have encountered in administering the program under current guidelines.
That plan was rejected in favor of a “compromise” bill that broadens taxpayer-funded eligibility to cover families making up to $83,000 per year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would shift two million children who already have private health insurance to a government-run program. Middle-class Americans would be better served by tax credits and incentives to enable them to purchase private insurance. This process would take us in the opposite direction.
The State of Tennessee’s experience in the 1990s demonstrates why such a wide-scale expansion is a bad idea. When TennCare broadened its coverage to include virtually everyone, combined state and federal resources could not meet its runaway costs, and the quality of health care was diminished for all.
QUESTIONABLE FUNDING PLAN
The Democrats’ plan also includes “smoke-and-mirrors” gimmickry to finance the massive spending this expansion would involve. In order to skirt budget rules, the legislation proposes to spend $8.4 billion in 2012 and then spend only $600 million in 2013, a decrease of 93 percent. That sleight of hand would force a future Congress to boost spending radically or cut millions of children from the program.
The bill would raise the tobacco tax to generate funds for SCHIP expansion. The Heritage Foundation reports that in order to raise sufficient revenues, the U.S. would need more than 22 million new smokers over the next 10 years. With the number of smokers already on the decline, that benchmark seems to be an unattainable — and unwanted — goal.
PROGRAM WILL NOT LAPSE
The House and Senate both passed this flawed legislation and sent to President Bush, who has promised to veto it. Congress has provided a temporary extension of SCHIP in the continuing resolution that funds government operations until mid-November. In the interim, I hope Republicans and Democrats can agree on a plan that will enable SCHIP to meet its original mandate of serving the health care needs of millions of low-income families all across America.
Roger Wicker Press Release