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Congress Should Override the Bush Double Standard on Children’s Health: Here’s Why
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Congress Should Override the Bush Double Standard on Children’s Health: Here’s Why

Congress this week should override the Bush double standard on children’s health, writes Jeanne Lambrew. Here’s why.

Tomorrow Congress will attempt to override President Bush’s veto of the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization. He vetoed the bill in December because “it moves our country’s health care system in the wrong direction.” House minority leader Boehner concurred: “This has become a partisan political game.”

Numerous analyses challenge the specific concerns raised by the president and his allies. But an equally compelling challenge comes from a comparison to the Medicare drug benefit bill, which many opponents of kids’ health, including the president, supported when it was passed by Congress in 2003. The numbers tell the story of how the bar has been raised when it comes to health coverage for children.

The Votes

Supporters of the Medicare drug bill called it a bipartisan victory. But the children’s health conference agreement had more votes than the Medicare drug bill: 265 versus 210 in the House, 67 versus 54 in the Senate. It also had more bipartisan support: 45 House Republicans supported the passage of the kids’ health bill, while only one House Democrat supported the Medicare drug law.

The Cost

Some conservatives say that the children’s health bill costs too much. The Congressional Budget Office, however, estimates that the bill would cost $35 billion from fiscal year 2008 to 2012, or one-seventh of the comparable cost estimate for the Medicare drug benefit. The first year of the drug benefit alone cost $10 billion more than entire five-year cost of the kids’ bill.

And, unlike the kids’ health bill, which would be fully offset by a tobacco tax, the drug benefit was unfunded. The Government Accountability Office estimates that the drug benefit accounts for one-seventh of the entire budget’s unfunded future liability.

The Targeting

Some conservatives object that the kids’ bill would crowd out private dollars and cover wealthy children. Yet 66 percent of children who would be helped by the legislation were previously uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is nearly three times the proportion of seniors who lacked drug coverage prior to the Medicare drug law. Nearly 80 percent of those children helped by the bill have low-income, compared to 51 percent of Medicare beneficiaries gaining drug coverage.

The Impact

Policymakers across the political spectrum agreed that covering medications through Medicare was critical: lives were at stake. The same is true for low-income children. The vetoed bill would cover nearly 4 million uninsured children who may otherwise forgo preventive and basic health care. Far too often, these uninsured children develop complications and miss school,failing to fulfill their potential. These losses are purely preventable with the enactment of this legislation.

So, compared to the Medicare drug benefit, the president and a conservative minority in Congress have raised the bar on children’s health insurance. This legislation is not just bipartisan and sound but is essential as the economy slows and more families lose coverage.

President Bush said on signing the Medicare drug law almost five years ago:

We confronted problems, instead of passing them along to future administrations and future Congresses. We overcame old partisan differences. We kept our promise, and found a way to get the job done.

Bush failed to keep this promise when it comes to America’s children, but Congress today can remedy that failure by overriding his veto.

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