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Life Health > Health Insurance

Sacrificial Lambs

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I am continually amazed at how the Bush administration, which is so intent on making sure that children make it into this world, seems to have a whole lot less of that concern when the kids are growing up and need health care.

This lack of concern expresses itself, of course, in the need to conserve the nation’s budgetary resources. This is a wonderful (if sanctimonious) tactic to resort to when it comes to a program that you support lukewarmly, at best.

Let’s take the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is funded to the tune of $5 billion a year and which is allocated to the states to cover poor children within their borders.

The administration maintains that it wants to get back to the “original objective” of the program, which it says was to cover children in families at or below 2 times the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level for a family of 4 is $20,650.

Just writing this figure boggles my mind. That is not even $400 a week, so it is hard (OK, impossible) for me to understand how a family of 4 could manage on that. Twice that brings the total to under $800 a week–still peanuts. Try managing to pay rent, food, utilities, car payments, and oh yeah, health care on that amount.

But principles are principles for Mr. Bush and company. This, however, puts the administration on a collision course with the nation’s governors (many of them Republicans) whose states have expanded the program to children in families at more than twice the federal poverty level.

Some states have even had the temerity to go to thrice or, in the case of New Jersey, even thrice-and-a-half of the poverty level.

Health Affairs had an article on SCHIP, and in a release the magazine said that the program provides “coverage to about 4 million children on any given day.” It added that 14 states “are expected to run out of money for the program this year…”

With the administration angling to get back to the “original objective” of the program, those states that have expanded theirs (which translates to expanding the number of children covered) are complaining loud and long not only about the current funding but about the rather niggling increase in funding the administration has asked for. This sought-after increase amounts to $4.8 billion over the next 5 years.

At this level, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that states face a $700 million shortfall in 2007 and a shortfall of over $13 billion in total from 2008 to 2012, according to The New York Times.

The Health Affairs release says the article’s authors warn that “if funding is held to its current level, many children could lose their health insurance, and states will be hard-pressed to expand coverage for the nearly 2 million uninsured children who are now eligible for the program.”

At least one congressman has in effect told the administration to get real. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., chairman of the House Health subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce committee, which has jurisdiction over SCHIP, said (as quoted in the Times), “I have absolutely no intention of moving the president’s proposals through our subcommittee.”

Oops, looks like I forgot to mention that Rep. Pallone hails from New Jersey.

Being from New Jersey, I like having someone like Pallone fighting for the kids. Somehow, I feel a lot more confident that the poor children of this country are not going to have their health insurance sacrificed on the specious altar of budgetary restraint. The administration will have to look elsewhere for sacrificial lambs.

Steve Piontek



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