Bush misleads in vetoing health insurance funding
Yesterday, President Bush vetoed a bipartisan compromise bill on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which would have provided an additional $35 billion over five years for children's health insurance.
According to an analysis by the nonprofit health advocacy group Families USA, the bill would have insured 12,600 children in Hawaii -- 56 percent of the 22,400 uninsured children locally. Nationwide, roughly 4 million of 9.1 million uninsured children would have gained coverage.
In justifying his veto, Bush has pushed false and misleading information about the bill and its impact on children.
For example, in his national radio address on Sept. 22, Bush claimed Congress's proposal "would result in taking a program meant to help poor children and turning it into one that covers children in some households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year."
Bush was apparently referring to an effort by New York to cover kids whose family income is as much as 400 percent of the federal poverty level. However, the SCHIP bill actually discourages states from covering children up to that income level by effectively capping the program to kids in families whose income is 300 percent of poverty level, or $64,000. (Hawaii covers up to 300 percent of poverty level). And a study released by the Urban Institute estimates that 70 percent of the children receiving benefits under the SCHIP bill would be in families with income less than 200 percent of poverty, or $41,300.
Bush also said the proposal "would move millions of children who now have private health insurance into government-run health care. Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage."
The phrase "government-run health care" is an attempt to invoke fears that SCHIP expansion would become a large, monolithic government program at the expense of private health care. Yet undermining Bush's argument is the fact that trade associations for private insurance and pharmaceutical companies, such as America's Health Insurance Plans and the Healthcare Leadership Council, support SCHIP expansion because under the current system, government contracts out SCHIP services to private insurance companies. In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, three-fourths of children currently covered under SCHIP receive their care through private managed plans that contract through their state.
Additionally, any government program that intends to help the uninsured will inevitably spill over some benefits to those who already have insurance. The question is whether the program minimizes spillovers. Peter Orszag, director of the taxpayer-funded Congressional Budget Office, concluded that when it comes to reaching uninsured children, the proposed SCHIP legislation is "pretty much as efficient as you can possibly get" and more efficient than other proposed government measures.
Finally, Bush said he is "committed to working with Congress to pass a responsible SCHIP bill." Yet the administration's counterproposal is hardly "responsible." Bush said, "My 2008 budget proposed to increase SCHIP funding by $5 billion over five years, a 20 percent increase over current funding." But what the White House does not mention is that that funding level, while an increase, would fail to maintain the current enrollment of SCHIP and underfund the program by at least $9 billion, according to the CBO.
Bush's veto of SCHIP was based on, as Republican Sen. Charles Grassley politely put it, a misunderstanding of the bill. Congress must continue to pressure the White House on SCHIP until either the president signs it or the House finally joins the Senate and overrides Bush's veto. The well-being of more than 12,000 Hawaii keiki and millions of children nationwide is at stake.
Eric Hananoki is a freelance researcher who lives in Niu Valley.