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Skepticism Greets Bush Proposal For Greater Funding Of SCHIP

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Independent healthcare experts and even influential Republicans in Congress are greeting with a grain of salt the Bush administration’s decision to support greater funding of the State Children’s Health Insurance Plans in its new budget.

An independent policy analytical group further contends that the hiked funding is still not enough to maintain the program, and would only be funded through wholesale cuts in the Medicaid program.

Indeed, even a key Republican in the Senate questions the administration’s new policy, and is asking the administration to “account for the dramatic shift” in the administration’s estimate from $4.2 billion over 5 years to $19.7 billion over 5 years.

“SCHIP reauthorization failed in past year because the administration insisted the program didn’t require as much money as some of us said it would,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee said in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“A lot of members of Congress relied on the administration’s estimates,” Grassley explained. But, it turns out, he said, “that the estimates apparently weren’t so reliable.”

In his letter, Grassley said, “I don’t know how or why they revised their estimate by more than 400 percent in a few months.”

He noted that “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.”

Currently, after two presidential vetoes, the SCHIP program is only funded through March 2009.

The program authorization was extended last year. The prior program called for spending $5 billion a year or $25 billion over 5 years. Congress sent the administration legislation that would expand the program by $35 billion over 5 years, which was vetoed.

Now, the program will get $6.6 billion in the current fiscal year, and $5.275 billion to get the program through March 2009.

Edwin Park, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the $19.7 billion increase in funding proposed by the Bush administration in its budget for 2009 would still not allow states to cover the children they currently cover, “let alone cover more children.”

The group said the difference between what the president is proposing and what is needed to serve existing programs is $21.5 billion. This amount is needed over the next 5 years just to avert reductions in the number of children insured through the program because the budget “baseline” assumes a reduction in SCHIP funding below the 2008 level and includes no adjustment for health care inflation in coming years, Park said.

He also noted that the SCHIP funding increase is “exclusively” paid for by Medicaid cuts under the President’s budget.