Obama Calls on President to Support Children's Health Insurance Program, Repeal Restrictive Policies
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to President Bush, calling on him to immediately rescind newly implemented restrictive policies for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and commit to supporting the program's reauthorization. In the letter, Obama expresses serious concerns that the Administration's new program requirements essentially abandon the children who need help the most by limiting access to CHIP. In August, the Senate voted to expand CHIP coverage to an additional four million children.
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to express my serious concerns over the Administration's new policies for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These policies, which are detailed in a letter on August 17, 2007, to state health officials from Dennis Smith, Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations, would severely restrict the ability of states to address the needs of its most vulnerable residents.
There are few issues in this country that reflect a greater disconnect between what the American people want and the way Washington operates than health care coverage. And nowhere is this divide more apparent than in the millions of American children who lack health insurance. These are children who did not choose where they were born or how much money their parents have; children whose development depends on the care and nourishment they receive in those early years; children who any parent, anywhere, should want to protect at any cost. Insuring these children is a top priority for the American people, and those of us in Washington must do everything we can to protect them.
One-quarter of all children and half of low-income children receive their health coverage through Medicaid or CHIP. Medicaid covers nearly 30 million poor and near-poor children, and CHIP covers 6.7 million additional low-income children and pregnant woman. Although we can debate the effectiveness of some federal programs, CHIP has been an unqualified success. After its enactment, the uninsured rate among low-income children fell by more than one-third from 1997-2005, even as the number and rate of uninsured adults rose steadily during the same time period.
Unfortunately, this national trend has not continued, and the number of children without health coverage has started to rise since 2005. This reversal adds urgency to the national call to reauthorize and expand CHIP, and not contract it as the Administration's new policies will do.
Among the changes detailed in Mr. Smith's letter is a requirement that states must demonstrate that they have enrolled at least 95 percent of the children with family incomes below 200 percent of poverty level before they can extend the eligibility limit to 250 percent. However, as your officials are well aware, no state has enrolled 95 percent of eligible children in CHIP to date. The Administration also proposes that in families with incomes above 250 percent of poverty level, children must be uninsured for a year before they can be eligible for CHIP. This requirement essentially abandons the children who need our help the most - those whose parents have lost their jobs and their employer-provided health insurance.
Today, nine million of our children still do not have health insurance, and the vast majority of Americans are calling on our government to do something about it. The Congress has done its part by recently passing the Senate reauthorization bill to allow an additional four million children to be covered and the House bill to cover upwards of five million children. State governments are also successfully tackling this enormous challenge by increasing outreach and enrollment, expanding eligibility, and by building upon CHIP as part of their state universal coverage initiatives.
It is now time for the Administration to do its part for our children. We must ensure that all children have access to the health care they need, when they need it. As long as there are children in our country who lack health care coverage, we are fundamentally betraying the very morals and ideals we hold in our hearts as Americans. I ask that you immediately rescind these new policies and commit to passing the reauthorization of this critical program.
United States Senator