The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.
Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a month-long Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were aimed at returning the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.
After learning of the new policy, some state officials said today that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children by imposing standards that could not be met.
Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey, said: "We are horrified at the new federal policy. It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children."
The beef with SCHIP that Bush has? It interferes with private insurance. Forget about the fact that there are millions children currently uninsured, and millions more that are underinsured. Nothing could be clearer in terms of the priorities of this Administration.
To minimize the risk of such substitution, Mr. Smith said in his letter, states should charge co-payments or premiums that approximate the cost of private coverage and should impose "waiting periods," to make sure higher-income children do not go directly from a private health plan to a public program.
If a state wants to set its income limit above 250 percent of the poverty level ($51,625 for a family of four), Mr. Smith said, "the state must establish a minimum of a one-year period of uninsurance for individuals" before they can receive public coverage.
Gene Sperling adds analysis:
What is most inexcusable about the White House stance is what they don't say. They offer nothing -- no better idea, no alternative, no plan -- that has been shown to keep even a chunk of these 5 million to 6 million children from going to sleep every night without health insurance.
They are content to keep the status quo even with heartbreaking reports that uninsured infants with congenital heart problems are 10 times more likely to die because of delayed treatment than those with coverage.
Before, "compassionate conservatism" may have seemed like a political bumper sticker. Now it seems like the punch line of a sad joke, at the expense of millions of impoverished children.
Once again, the White House, and Republicans, are on the wrong side of the health care issue, an issue the American people care deeply about. Where is Thomas Nast when you need him?