I always find it surprising that something as obvious as the need to provide health coverage to children can be so controversial. In 2004, Arlene Wohlgemuth, the Republican running against Democrat Chet Edwards for US Congressional District 17 in Texas, made as a cornerstone of her campaign her sponsorship of HB 2292 the previous year in the Texas House. By substantially cutting back and altering the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP or CHIP) in Texas, Wohlgemuth argued, she had saved Texas taxpayers a significant sum. She had also, however, caused well over 100,000 children to loose their health care coverage. Not did this come off as mean-spirited (CHIP primarily covers the children of the working poor), it wasn’t particularly smart either, since in making the cuts the state of Texas lost quite a bit of matching federal funds. Oops.
That’s money lost in addition to the long-term fiscal cost of removing children from such health programs, letting health problems go untreated now, only to be treated at a much greater cost down the line. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics, for example, estimated that such cuts end up costing about $2,000 per child.
Fortunately, Chet Edwards won that election, and the state of Texas eventually reversed some of the cuts to CHIP.
At the federal level, though, CHIP may be facing its biggest challenge yet. Originally enacted in 1997, it is scheduled to expire in September of this year. Since it currently provides health care coverage to 6.6 million children, the Senate Finance Committee recently announced a bipartisan compromise bill to extend and expand the CHIP program. So, what does the Bush administration think about all of this? From the Washington Post:
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said yesterday that Bush’s senior advisers “will certainly recommend a veto” of the Senate committee’s proposal because of its size and the plan to fund it with a tax increase.
The AP expands on this:
“It’s clear that it will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage purchased either through their employer or with their own resources to go on the government-subsidized program,” Fratto said. “Tax increases are neither necessary nor advisable to appropriately fund SCHIP.”
I’m not so sure about Fratto’s logic here, but, putting that aside for the moment, what “tax increases” is he talking about?
Key members of the Senate Finance Committee announced a bipartisan deal late last week that would raise the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to $1 a pack, to expand the program by $35 billion over the next five years. That would create total program funding of $60 billion over the period — enough, lawmakers said, to cover 3.3 million additional kids while keeping the focus on children of the working poor. The committee is expected to vote on the plan as early as this week.
Oh, he’s talking about those taxes. Yes, clearly we shouldn’t risk possibly slightly decreasing sales figures for Big Tobacco in order to provide health care to just some of our nation’s children.
Since he has been so quick to promise a veto of this bipartisan bill, surely President Bush has his own amazing and innovative solution:
President Bush has attacked the proposals as big-government attempts to enlarge the federal role in health care, saying they would siphon choice away from individuals and reduce private insurance coverage for some children. He has proposed about $5 billion in new funding for children’s health insurance over five years, for a total of $30 billion — an amount that the Congressional Budget Office says would be too little to keep covering even just the number of children enrolled in the program now.
Great. His plan to provide health care to more children is to significantly underfund the current program. Yes, that makes a lot of sense….
Big Tobacco – 1
Children – 0