Putting Children’s Health Before Ideology

It is time for Congress to get past the politics and finally give children the health insurance they need through SCHIP, writes Judy Feder.

Dawn Snyder watches her son Cory play in his front yard. Cory has cerebral palsy, but his mother is unable to get government health insurance that will cover him. (AP/Mark Stahl)
Dawn Snyder watches her son Cory play in his front yard. Cory has cerebral palsy, but his mother is unable to get government health insurance that will cover him. (AP/Mark Stahl)

Read more on SCHIP: Long Overdue: Children’s Health Insurance by the Numbers

The House of Representatives is about to pass a long-awaited and badly needed reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program with broad bipartisan support. This proposal would guarantee continued coverage for 6.7 million children, and add protection for 3.9 million more.

SCHIP has been on life support since the fall of 2007, during the nation’s worst economic slump since the Great Depression when families needed it most. Congress’ inability to move forward on this issue has not been because it doesn’t know how to protect children; it does. Rather, the failure has been political. The House and Senate passed a similar bill in September 2007 and again in November 2007 only to have them vetoed by President Bush. If the Senate moves to reauthorize SCHIP as quickly as the House expects to move—and it should—American families will finally see the help they have been waiting for.

All that was possible under the previous administration was an extension of an inadequate SCHIP through March 2009, which provides states with some funding, but not enough to meet current needs. President Bush explained his initial veto of the SCHIP legislation by attacking it as “an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American.” In reality, SCHIP is the most private of the public programs, delivered primarily through private health insurers. It is hard to imagine that health insurers, drug companies, and the American Medical Association would back this kids’ health legislation, as they have, if it really were a “long step” toward socialized medicine.

Republican and Democratic leaders were clear in 2007 that health care for children was what mattered—not ideology. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said on the passage of the bipartisan expansion in September 2007 that the Senate action was, “an honest compromise which improves a program that works for America’s low-income children.” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, applauded the Senate’s ability to “get the Children’s Health Insurance Program back on track …reclaim precious resources for low-income kids… [and] help cover millions more low-income uninsured children.”

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) called on President Bush to “look beyond politics and see the faces of the children who have no hope of health coverage without the additional funds in this bill.” Sen. Grassley clearly shared his view, saying, “A lot of misinformation has been spread about this bill. But in Iowa, you can’t call a cow a chicken and have it be true.”

Millions of uninsured children have been waiting for health insurance since 2007 and the economic crisis brings many more to their ranks every day. Now is the time for the nation to move beyond politics and provide them the health insurance protection they so sorely need. The only political sticking point on the horizon seems to be whether to cover children who are legal immigrants. Only politics would make these children wait five years for health insurance. The Senate should move quickly to reauthorize SCHIP, coming to agreement with the House, and sending a bill to a president who is ready to sign it. Democratic and Republican senators can put children above ideology and deliver what they know is best for America’s families.

Read more:

Long Overdue: Children’s Health Insurance by the Numbers

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