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Skeptics React To Bush SCHIP Increase Proposal

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The Bush administration has raised eyebrows with recommendations that Congress dramatically increase the spending authorization for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Originally, SCHIP was set to get about $5 billion per year, or $25 billion from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2013.

Democrats and some Republican allies in Congress recently fought a bitter battle in an unsuccessful effort to increase spending by $35 billion, to a total of $12 billion per year, or $60 billion over 5 years.

President Bush vetoed the SCHIP expansion bill, and Congress ended up rushing to pass a bill that would increase SCHIP funding only slightly, to $6.6 billion in the current fiscal year, fiscal year 2008, which started Oct. 1, 2007.

Now the Bush administration has proposed increasing SCHIP spending authorization by $4.2 billion per year, or $19.7 billion over 5 years, to a 5-year total of about $45 billion.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, believes Congress would have to increase SCHIP funding at least $4.3 billion per year, or $21.5 billion over 5 years, to permit states to continue to cover as many children as they now cover, according to Edwin Park, a senior fellow at the center.

The Bush administration budget proposal would pay for the SCHIP funding increase solely by cutting the budget for Medicaid, Park notes.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, says congressional SCHIP reauthorization efforts failed in the past year partly because the Bush administration insisted that the program needed only about $1 billion in extra funding per year, or $5 billion in additional funding over 5 years.

“A lot of members of Congress relied on the administration’s estimates,” Grassley, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, writes in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“I don’t know how or why they revised their estimate by more than 400% in a few months,” Grassley writes. “It’s good they got religion, but I wish they’d seen the light last fall. We might have avoided a lot of time and trouble and gotten far better policies instilled in the program.”