For the fourth time this year, the House Democrat leadership is gearing up to force a vote to massively expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), despite objections from SCHIP supporters who point out that the measure will push more than 2 million children out of private health insurance plans and onto taxpayer-funded programs.
Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly refused overtures from the White House and Republicans to craft a compromise measure that would continue the successful program for children and focus additional resources on those who are already eligible for SCHIP but are not now participating.
SCHIP, created by a Republican Congress in 1997, provides health insurance for children who do not qualify for Medicaid, but whose parents still cannot afford health insurance. Currently in California, the SCHIP program covers children whose families are making 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or an income of $51,625 for a family of four.
The SCHIP program must be renewed this year, but President George W. Bush vetoed the first incarnation of the Democrats' SCHIP proposal. After the defeat of this legislation, Democrat lawmakers asserted they would work together with Republicans on a compromise bill. However, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's promises that the new bill would address "all the concerns that were expressed by our colleagues and by the President," and to "maintain our bipartisanship," were not kept.
Even those who had supported the Democrats' original SCHIP proposal have been put off by Pelosi's refusal to work in a bipartisan manner. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., a supporter of the Democrats' first SCHIP proposal remarked: "I used to think they cared about the policy. Now I think they care more about the politics."
The Democrats' last attempt, presented to the House of Representatives on Oct. 25, would still drastically alter the SCHIP program. Democrats only made cosmetic changes to their previous version. By not working with the Republicans, as they said they would, they failed to address the real problems with the bill and failed to win even a single new vote.
The purpose of SCHIP is to provide health care for children whose families do not qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford health insurance. Unfortunately, many of these truly needy children are not enrolled in SCHIP. A major flaw of the Democrat bill is that it greatly expands eligibility to children in wealthier families -- those making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, while doing little to increase the enrollment of poorer children.
The Democrat SCHIP proposal would actually expand government health care beyond the scope of covering the needy and extends to children who are already enrolled in private insurance. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 2 million children who have private insurance could be moved onto SCHIP.
The cost of expanding SCHIP coverage beyond needy children is $35.4 billion. To pay for this expansion, the Democrat proposal increases the cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack, and the cigar tax up to $3 per cigar. According to a Heritage Foundation study, 22.4 million new people will have to start smoking in the next 10 years to raise enough revenue to pay for the expansion of SCHIP to higher income levels.
SCHIP should maintain its focus on insuring the children that truly need help -- those below 200 percent of the poverty level. Before expanding SCHIP to children whose families can afford private insurance, Congress should focus on children who already qualify for SCHIP, but are not enrolled.
Extending the SCHIP program to children who already have health insurance is a dangerous step away from personal responsibility in the direction of government-run socialized medicine. Congress should address the high cost of health care and take steps to ensure the affordability of insurance, but expansion of government-run health care is not the way to accomplish this goal.
Congressman Issa represents California's 49th District.