Statement by Jeanne Lambrew, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Click here to see a map detailing SCHIP enrollment and shortfalls in individual states.
Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Levitt sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee threatening a presidential veto of its bipartisan reauthorization proposal for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Levitt claims that the bill promotes “dependence” on government programs, shifts costs more than it expands coverage, and is fiscally irresponsible. This is not only inaccurate but hypocritical, and could block reauthorization and cause kids to lose coverage.
Nothing in the Senate bill alters the structure of SCHIP: its successful eligibility, benefit, and public-private design features are maintained. What the legislation does is make the federal government a better partner than it has been in funding and finding eligible but uninsured low-income children. It does so effectively and efficiently, according to estimates from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. While the funding for the legislation should be criticized, the basis of criticism should be that the bill does too little, not too much, to cover the 6 million uninsured children eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP today.
The administration’s opposition stands in stark contrast to its position on the Medicare Modernization Act that created the drug benefit in 2003. That legislation also included public subsidies for private coverage. However, it had no offsets for its 10-year, $400 billion price tag; it included the same generous subsidy for high- as well as low-income seniors; and it crowded out private drug coverage. If it applied its same standard to SCHIP, the administration would embrace rather than reject the bipartisan Senate bill.
The administration’s opposition to this bipartisan, fiscally conservative bill could block its passage and delay SCHIP reauthorization. Without reauthorization, states will have insufficient funding to continue covering kids, causing nearly a million children to become uninsured, according to the CBO. Hopefully, members of Congress will stay on the path to reauthorizing this critical program.