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Bush wants to take away our kids' health care

October 5, 2007 | Page 16

ELIZABETH SCHULTE reports on Washington's battle over a children's health care program.

GEORGE W. BUSH is ready for a new assault in his crusade against poor children--as he prepares to veto a bill that would increase funding to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

In a 67-29 vote--enough to override a veto that Bush had promised--the Senate voted to increase spending on SCHIP from about $5 billion to $12 billion each year for the next five. In the House, however, despite the support of 45 Republicans, the vote to pass the legislation fell short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

SCHIP currently provides health insurance coverage to 6.6 million children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, the government insurance program for low-income children. The bill could potentially add 4 million more children to the SCHIP program.

Bush claims that the SCHIP bill would divert "scarce funding to higher incomes at the expense of poor families." At a press conference in September at which he threatened to veto the bill, Bush declared, "Congress has made a decision to expand [SCHIP] eligibility up to $80,000."

Once again, Bush has fallen victim to his own "fuzzy math."

The bill would limit SCHIP coverage to families with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level--$61,950 for a family of four. "In places with a high cost of living, about 70 percent of those enrolled would be from families earning less than $24,340," noted columnist Margaret Carlson.

SCHIP aims to help the millions of people who fall between the cracks when it comes to health care for their children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 8 million children in the U.S. go without health care, and 27 million won't have it at some point in any two-year period. Nearly 1 million go without immunizations for childhood diseases.

With the cards stacked against them, parents face heartbreaking decisions. Ann Nicholson was unable to find health care in Florida that she could afford for her 12-year-old son, who suffers from hemophilia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Unable to move herself, she had to send Matthew to live with relatives in Georgia, where he could be covered under PeachCare, Georgia's child health insurance program.

"It's frustrating when a mother has to fight for her son's medicine," Nicholson told the Florida Times-Union. "But the price of one treatment was the price of my mortgage. I just pray every day that Leeila [her 7-year-old daughter] doesn't get sick."

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THE REPUBLICANS claim that the SCHIP program is nothing but big government spending. "Democrats are counting down the hours so they can tee up the election ads saying Republicans don't like kids," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "Meanwhile, they're using SCHIP as a Trojan horse to sneak government-run health care into the states."

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Rep) put it more bluntly to right-wing columnist Robert Novak: "This is not a back door to get socialized medicine. They went straight to the front door."

But Republicans like Ryan are only looking out for their friends in the health insurance industry.

Of the top industry contributors to Ryan's campaign in the 2005-2006 election cycle, the insurance industry was number one, with $86,450; pharmaceuticals were number three with more than $48,000; and hospitals and nursing homes came in fourth at $45,450, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But even by its own standards, the Bush administration is lying about the effects of SCHIP.

The White House claims that SCHIP is "crowding out" private health care providers. But according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a "congressionally mandated 10-state evaluation of SCHIP found that while 28 percent of newly enrolled children had private coverage before joining SCHIP, half of them--or 14 percent--lost their private insurance for involuntary reasons before enrolling in SCHIP, such as when parents lost their jobs or became divorced or employers stopped offering health insurance for dependents."

Plus, children covered by SCHIP get their care in large part from private health care providers.

If the Bush administration is so worried about scarce funds, it's looking in the wrong places. The federal government isn't even footing the bill for the SCHIP legislation. Additional spending is supposed to be paid for by a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes--a regressive tax that unfairly passes the cost onto workers and the poor.

If the administration wanted a government source to find funding for a bill that ensures poor kids gets health care, it might look at the Pentagon budget. The Bush administration plans to ask Congress for another $42.3 billion for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan--bringing the total 2008 war funding request to almost $190 billion.

This makes the $35 billion over five years that Congress wants to spend on SCHIP look like pocket change. But in Washington, the important thing is whose pocket the money is in.

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