Bush axes kids health plan

The Bush administration is poised to launch an attack on children’s health care. Crying the blues of “fiscal prudence,” the president is withdrawing one-fourth of the federal financing of children’s health insurance coverage, exposing millions of children to illnesses that could be cured and/or stopped from getting worse.

These cuts would take place from 2002 to 2004. In addition, Bush is planning to return $2.8 million to the U.S. Treasurer of SCHIP funds previously given to the States.

The mostly federally financed State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) has been an important band-aid for 45 million people without health insurance. It is modeled after the Medicaid financing mechanism, that is, there are both federal and state matching funds. In New York State, a Family Health Plus program was grafted on this children’s program to get health insurance to adults who earn too much for Medicaid, but cannot afford regular health insurance. This program will probably face a difficult future.

At a time when SCHIP faces cutbacks, the Commonwealth Fund reports that New York employers plan to scale back health coverage for workers.

When this program was enacted in 1997, there were 10 million children without health insurance; five years later about one-third of them are covered.

If these federal funds are withdrawn, states will have to freeze enrollment, increase premiums for this coverage (why there is a premium to begin with is crazy); and stop the new simplified enrollment procedures that many states were instituting.

The next weeks of campaigning for Congress should be filled with very direct questions of both Republicans and Democrats. To cover themselves, some Republicans are supporting the SCHIP program. For example, Chaffee of Connecticut and Hatch of Utah are supporting continuation of SCHIP.

Examples like SCHIP are pushing more and more elected officials to call for a universal national health plan. The stop-gap method of covering different groups of people gives right-wing politicians the ability to cut back those same programs.

The increasingly flawed Medicare program, the federal health program for seniors, is uncovering another defect – the unwillingness of physicians to participate in the program because they are not receiving enough reimbursement. New York Senator Charles Schumer’s answer is to feed more money into the system. He is especially interested in feeding the already greedy HMOs, be they for profit or not for profit.

A universal solution to this problem is the only answer. A universal health system in the U.S. must start with our public system, where physicians and other health care providers work for a salary. In fact, in the U.S. well over 50 percent of physicians are salaried.

The examples of SCHIP, and the increasingly failing marks given to Medicaid and Medicare, show that a new approach is needed. HR-99, the Universal Health Care legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is the broadest approach to the massive problem we have and deserves to be supported by every member of Congress.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org