Halloween comes early: Bush’s masquerade



Bryan Kerns

Last week’s failure of the U.S. House of Representatives to override President George W. Bush’s veto of a bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) represents a victory for a president who could surely use one. The victory, though, is hollow. It comes at the expense of nearly four million people in need of health insurance coverage. It is a victory only for the president as the bill passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support.

SCHIP was designed in 1997 to provide health insurance for children from families whose parents made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but whose income level fell beneath twice the poverty line. For a family of four, the poverty line stands at $20,650. Doubling that yields a yearly income of $41,300. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have laws placing the income cap at 200 percent above the poverty level. New Jersey places it at 350 percent. When first approved, SCHIP’s budget allocation was $5 billion a year.

The Congressional Budget Office reported that 6.6 million children and 671,000 adults received their health coverage through SCHIP in 2006. The Congressional Research Service determined that 83 percent of those receiving SCHIP coverage were children from families with an income at or below 200 percent above the poverty level. Nine percent of those insured by SCHIP were low-income adults. The final 8 percent consisted of children whose families made more than double the poverty level.

The bill, approved by Congress and vetoed by Bush, would allow states to raise their cap to three times the poverty level and receive full federal matching funds to administer the program. It also included a stipulation that states individually raising the income cap over three times the poverty level would have their matching funds decreased.

In other words, they would have to cover some of the insurance from their budget as opposed to receiving federal dollars if they covered families above three times the poverty level. According to the Urban Institute, 70 percent of the people retaining coverage and gaining coverage would still be from families who fall under the original federal cap of 200 percent.

Maintaining current levels of coverage as passed in the 1997 bill would require a budget expansion of $13.4 billion over five years, according to the CBO. The resultant total funding would be $38.4 billion between 2008 and 2012. Bush proposed a total of $30 billion over the next five years. Essentially, he proposes reducing the program’s scope by $8.4 billion – something that would result in a net decrease of children covered by 2012. The bill that recently passed both the House and Senate and was subsequently vetoed would result in a total of $60 billion in program funding. It would cover 10 million people.

The president’s main claim for vetoing this expansion – a modest one considering other expenditures in the federal budget – is that it is “government-run healthcare.” In many cases, this government-run healthcare program is the only affordable alternative for families. These families aren’t receiving free medical care, but their rates are lower than most.

This program is not socialized healthcare as some maintain. Its participants pay premiums and co-pays. The program is not free; it’s just a cheaper alternative to private insurance, much like federal student loans are cheaper than private loans.

In an editorial, The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Setting up a socialized-medicine straw man for election season is apparently more important to the GOP than providing medical care for the nation’s kids.” It’s not surprising that the president is attempting to save political face by selling out the nation’s children – none of whom will be voting in 2008. The vehement opponents of socialized healthcare will be voting in 2008, and the president hopes they fall into his trap as he parades around saying that SCHIP is socialized healthcare.

The bill just passed is dead. House Democrats could not muster enough votes to override a veto. Regardless of how little political capital the president has left, the Constitution still vests him with the power of veto. So, it is time for a compromise. Clearly, an expansion along the lines the Democrats sought is not likely to occur.

That said, the president’s minimalist proposal should not be the version that is enacted. According to The New York Times, “Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a key sponsor, estimates that some 92 percent of the children who would benefit would come from families with incomes below twice the poverty level, the group the president says he wants to concentrate on.”

The president must not be allowed to pass his proposal. A compromise must be reached. Allowing the president to pander to small-government conservative voters for the 2008 election by masquerading SCHIP as socialized medical coverage is unacceptable. Those kids may not be able to vote or contribute to special interest groups, but that shouldn’t matter. They need the help of those who can vote.

Why not give it to them?


Bryan Kerns is a freshman from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].