And the beat goes on …
That’s how some conservatives are describing the current debate surrounding future funding of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by the United States Congress.
SCHIP, which is set to expire on Sept. 30 of this year, is a federal program that provides a capped amount of funds to states to help them establish and administer health insurance to children ineligible for Medicaid but still too poor to afford insurance.
Georgia’s successful PeachCare program, which currently insures nearly 300,000 children in our state, receives nearly 75 percent of the cost of the program from SCHIP.
The Democratically-controlled House and Senate have proposed expanding the program by $50 billion and $35 billion respectfully over the next five years. Both chambers are proposing to fund the expansion largely by increasing the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
President Bush has threatened to veto both bills and has instead proposed an expansion of $5 billion, representing a 20 percent increase.
At the heart of the debate, according to some conservatives, is whether this is another attempt to push our country toward a national healthcare program, “Hillarycare,” as some refer to it.
Originally started in 1997, the SCHIP program was intended to assist states in providing insurance coverage to those children of families ineligible for Medicaid but with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Over time, some states increased the eligibility level even more. In Georgia’s case, the level was increased to 235 percent.
By increasing SCHIP substantially, as is being proposed by Congress, the eligibility level can be increased and more children can be covered. For instance, with the $50 billion proposal from the House, the eligibility level can be raised to 400 percent of the poverty level and 71 percent of the children in the country would be eligible. This would include children up to the age of 21, whether they are in our country legally or not.
Critics of such an increase point out that we are moving from providing coverage to the “working poor,” as was the original intent of SCHIP, to putting middle-class children on welfare. By offering this taxpayer-subsidized medical care we discourage employers from offering private health insurance and encourage employees to join the government plans.
As these programs are expanded many state officials are concerned with the increasing burden of providing their portion of the funding. In 1999 the state of Georgia spent $14 million on its portion of PeachCare. By 2006 that number had increased to nearly $73 million.
Supporters of the expanded program are quick to point out that by covering more children under these type plans, the state’s responsibility for those without insurance and therefore unable to pay is decreased.
As an alternative, conservatives are proposing using tax breaks to encourage Americans to buy private insurance rather than depend on government programs like SCHIP. One proposal calls for giving every American a $4,500 tax credit for private health insurance policies they purchase. For the poor who don’t pay that much in taxes, a $4,500 voucher would be issued to purchase insurance.
Heartless conservatives ignoring the needs of the lower and middle class or fiscally responsible leaders trying to prevent another social program from becoming a sacred cow?
Out of control liberals taking another step down the path to government run health care or socially responsive leaders trying to address the growing problem of uninsured children?
Whatever the answer one things for sure — the beat does go on ….