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Getting the Facts Straight on Children’s Health Insurance

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The Sunday morning talk shows this weekend were rife with misleading claims from conservative pundits and administration officials about the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Secretary Mike Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services told CNN’s “Late Edition,” “Well, let me just give you the facts.” George Will, on NBC News’ “This Week,” suggested that the president’s veto may be overridden “unless facts are allowed to intrude.”

Yet, their description of the “facts” is simply wrong. Let’s take a look.

CLAIM: George Will said, “What Democrats are doing is taking a program aimed at poor children and turning it into a huge, ever-expanding middle-class entitlement program.” He continued, “The guy sitting next to you at the bar at the Plaza with a mustache sipping a vodka martini may be on that program for poor children.”

FACT: First, there is no “Democratic” bill. The SCHIP bill that will be considered this week in the House and the Senate is a bipartisan conference report very similar to the Senate bill that received 68 votes.

Second, this bill does not expand eligibility for SCHIP.[1] It overwhelming targets resources to low-income children and it discourages expansion to families with more moderate incomes by lowering the share the federal government will pay for such coverage. The bill also adds practical guidance that maintains state flexibility on SCHIP eligibility, prioritizes coverage of low-income children, and limits the crowd-out of private coverage.[2] This approach replaces the administration’s flawed, one-size-fits-all guidance.

Third, the bipartisan conference agreement does not cover adults. So the guy sitting at that bar isn’t going to be covered by the program. It is illegal, as well as unlikely, that the child of a single mother with an income of about $40,000 would be at that bar.

CLAIM: Secretary Leavitt said, “They suggest that the bill will claim 4 million additional children. There are 900,000 children who currently do not have coverage who would qualify for SCHIP. That means that the balance of them, which would be 3.1 million children, are children from families with higher incomes.”

FACT: This claim rests on data analysis that has been widely discredited. Asked to comment on Secretary Leavitt’s claim that there are only 900,000 children who currently do not have coverage who would qualify for SCHIP, the Congressional Budget Office Director wrote, “In summary, CBO regards the estimates of between 5 million and 6 million children who are uninsured and eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP as more appropriate for considering policies aimed at enrolling more eligible children in those programs.”[3] The CBO offers non-partisan cost and coverage estimates used by Congress.

Furthermore, in its analysis of the Senate bill which closely resembles the conference agreement, CBO estimated that over 85 percent of the 4 million uninsured children who will gain insurance under the plan are already eligible for coverage.[4] This is the reverse of what Secretary Leavitt suggests.

CLAIM: Secretary Leavitt said, “The problem we have with this is that a very large percentage, some argue as much as half, as many as half the children that would be added, already have insurance.”

FACT: CBO found that two-thirds of those who would gain coverage under the Senate SCHIP bill would otherwise be uninsured.[5] This estimate of 33 percent “crowd out” is much less than the roughly 75 percent crowd-out estimates associated with past administration proposals to cover the uninsured that rely on $1,000 tax credits for use in the individual market.[6] The CBO director, Peter Orzag, has testified that the uninsured coverage rate achieved by the Senate SCHIP bill is about as efficient as any proposal can be with respect to crowd out.

CLAIM: Secretary Leavitt said, "… The president put forward proposals that would not only cover poor children, but would allow us to expand to as many as 16 to 20 million Americans, which would include more children than the proposal that the president has said he would veto.”

FACT: CBO estimated a “net decrease in the number of uninsured children of fewer than 0.5 million” from the President’s proposal.[7] This is less than 13 percent of the 4.0 million uninsured children covered by Senate bill that is largely included in the conference agreement.

CLAIM: Secretary Leavitt said, “We don’t believe we need to raise taxes of any kind to reauthorize this program into a program that would insure low-income children.”

FACT: The bipartisan conference agreement would not add a dime to the budget deficit. It increases the tobacco tax to both offset the necessary costs of covering low-income, uninsured children and reduce teen smoking, creating long-term, positive health effects.

Sources of the Quotes:

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0709/23/le.01.html

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ThisWeek/ on the Audio “This Week” Podcast, beginning at around minute 38.

[1] H.R. 976, Section 106.

[2] http://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/pressreleases?id=0327

[3] http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdoc.cfm?index=8357&type=0

[4] http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/85xx/doc8584/08-28-CHIP.pdf

[5] http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/85xx/doc8584/08-28-CHIP.pdf

[6] Kaiser Family Foundation

[7] http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdoc.cfm?index=8496&type=0

Read more about SCHIP from CAP:

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org