This week, Congress passed a long-awaited reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), legislation giving 10 million low-income children health care coverage. The program will expire Monday if it is not signed into law.
For Virginia alone, this bill means 211,200 children from low income families will be able to afford health insurance. That's an increase of 74,200 since the program was last authorized. Established in 1997, SCHIP has been wildly popular and received strong bipartisan support. The children able to access this program are those whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. Currently, 6.6 million children are enrolled in SCHIP.
The SCHIP bill has a broad range of bipartisan support. 270 organizations have endorsed it. These groups represent millions of Americans – ranging from the American Medical Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans to Families USA, the preeminent health care consumer advocacy group.
SCHIP's cost of about $3.50 per child, per day pales in comparison to the price of covering an indigent child’s emergency room visit — the most expensive way to meet a child's healthcare needs. And the expanded number of children to be covered under SCHIP will be paid for by increasing the cigarette tax — which works as both a deterrent and an equitable way to pay for the increased cost of health services associated with smoking.
Unfortunately, President Bush has threatened to veto this bill. The House passed the SCHIP bill with 265 votes, twenty-five short of a veto-proof majority. It may be that if the President vetoes the bill, recalcitrant Republicans will change their votes on the next vote Congress will take on SCHIP — to override that veto — because they fear being seen as standing in the way of low income children being able to see a pediatrician – which they are. It’s sad that this has to be such a partisan issue, but the Democratic Congress will make clear to the public who supports medical care for low income children and who doesn’t if this battle drags on.
Currently, 46 million Americans are without health insurance. For our most vulnerable population – our children – a lack of preventive medical care can hinder development, putting them at a disadvantage before their lives have even started. This SCHIP reauthorization is about caring for our future generations, providing them with the basic care needed to stay healthy and get a good start on life, regardless of their family’s financial situation. I urge the President to reconsider using a veto to block a measure that only seeks to give all Americans a fair shake at living a healthy, happy and productive life.