Providing Health Coverage for Low-Income Children, Not Illegal Immigrants and Adults
It's been 10 years since the Republican-led Congress created a program to provide health coverage to children of the working poor - families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. Deciding the future of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) has led to one of the biggest political showdowns of the year in Washington, threatening the viability of this program with budgetary gimmicks, tax hikes on working families and starting us on the path to socialized medicine.
I'm proud that I was in Congress when we created SCHIP, and I am committed to ensuring this program remains viable for the children who need it - those whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private health coverage. The bill that recently passed, however, opens up this program to childless adults and families who can afford private health insurance. I believe that's wrong. We should keep SCHIP focused on poor children.
In Ohio, there are anywhere from 236,000 to 245,000 children who currently have no health coverage but nearly 165,000 children who qualify for SCHIP have not been signed up by their parents. Rather than correct this administrative problem, some lawmakers want to push the low-income kids to the back of the line and welcome into the fold children who already have private insurance. What's more, the bill passed by Congress lets states offer "express enrollment" for SCHIP and Medicaid benefits without requiring applicants to prove they are legal U.S. residents.
The expanded entitlement in the bill passed by Congress is paid for by increased taxes. For starters, a 61-cent per pack tax will be levied on cigarettes. The flawed logic behind this proposal is obvious: if the cigarette tax has its touted effect and results in decreased smoking, the congressional plan won't produce the revenue needed to pay for the expansion of the program. What isn't covered by those taxes will have to be picked up by working families, and I believe it to be inherently unfair to ask hard-working Americans to pick up the tab to provide health coverage to illegal immigrants and adults who already have private insurance.
Adding insult to injury, the bill purposely misleads taxpayers by fudging the actual cost of the entitlement expansion plan by $40 billion. If implemented as written, it will eventually force some five million children off SCHIP by drastically cutting the funding in six years.
Meanwhile, this program is a first (bad) step toward socialized medicine in which the government will be responsible for administering health care, despite the government's reputation for inefficiency. The cost per child for private health coverage is $2,300; a child enrolled in SCHIP costs taxpayers $4,000. Adding to the overall cost of the program is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients with SCHIP and Medicaid are four times more likely to seek primary healthcare at a hospital emergency room than those with private insurance.
I support SCHIP, and I want it fully funded to cover all uninsured, lower-income children. But it's wrong to take a program designed for poor children and turn it into government-run health care for illegal immigrants and higher-income adults who already have private coverage. We cannot continue to spend money we don't have, and I believe the President is right to veto the flawed bill that Congress passed.
Throughout the year, Republicans have asked that the SCHIP bill be written in a bipartisan manner to it can continue serving the children who need it. While it's clear that some sought a presidential veto for political purposes, the veto will send the bill back to the House where hopefully we can all work together to write legislation that will fully fund this program to give affordable healthcare to low-income children.