EDITORIAL: Sickest of the Sickos

If anything should be a no-brainer for the world’s richest country, it is making sure all its children have basic health care. That’s part of securing our nation’s future, right?

Wrong, says the Bush administration.

In a Friday night stealth attack, Dennis Smith, head of the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations, told state health officials they must meet draconian new standards if they want to expand coverage under the 10-year-old State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The program covers children with family incomes too big for Medicaid but too small to afford private coverage.

Under the new rules, if states want to cover families up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level — an income of $51,625 for a family of four, they must show that such families have been uninsured for at least a year. They must also prove that at least 95 percent of children whose families earn less than 200 percent of the poverty level are already enrolled, something experts say is impossible to do.

Smith said allowing higher income limits to cover more kids makes the program “more likely to substitute for private coverage.” He said waiting periods are needed to make sure children don’t move directly from private to public coverage, and states should charge co-pays and premiums close to the cost of private coverage.

In other words, this outrageous administration is more concerned about health insurance company profits than children’s health.

Earlier this summer, bipartisan majorities in both House and Senate passed increased funding for SCHIP, raising the hope that Congress might override Bush’s threatened veto. SCHIP is strongly supported by both Republican and Democratic governors.

New Jersey, New York and other states are vigorously protesting the new Bush move. Many already allow higher income thresholds and some want to raise them still further.

In California, SCHIP plays a key role in achieving coverage for all children, a goal supported by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as Democratic leaders.

As N.Y. Daily News columnist Bill Hammond aptly said, “On this issue, it’s our president who needs a checkup — from the neck up.”