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For their own good
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With stroke of pen, millions denied care
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published October 3, 2007
Despite strong bipartisan support in Congress and among voters, President Bush is determined to veto a reasonable compromise bill that moderately expands a health insurance program for children from low-income families who cannot afford private coverage. That would deprive millions of youngsters the medical care they deserve, and it reflects a stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge rising concerns about an issue that will be at the forefront of the 2008 elections.
The State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, would be expanded by $35-billion over five years -- less than the emergency funding the president is requesting for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money would come from an increase in tobacco taxes, and it would enable the program to cover an additional 4-million children. That would increase total enrollment to 10-million, but even then all of the uninsured children in this country would not have health coverage. This is a modest step in the right direction, not a government-takeover of all health care.
Don't believe the rhetoric about socialized medicine and subsidies for the rich coming from such opponents as Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, who as Republican National Committee chairman didn't have the courage to stand up to the wrong-headed president on an issue critically important to his own state. Yes, SCHIP already illogically covers some adults. But the compromise bill would phase that out. Yes, some states distort the intent of the program and cover middle class families, but the income limit in most states, including Florida, is less than $42,000 for a family of four. The compromise bill makes it much harder for states to reach beyond an income limit of about $62,000 for a family of four, not easier. Yes, some families with coverage would drop it to enroll their children in SCHIP, but that is not the norm. Just 5 percent of the applicants in Florida already have insurance, and the state requires children to be uninsured for six months before they are eligible.
This is about ideology and politics, not money. Bush would limit the capacity of a successful program and instead push tax credits to pay for health care, which won't work and has little support in Congress. The low-income families who need SCHIP the most are not going to get their child into the doctor with tax credits.
In the Tampa Bay area, a veteran and a freshman sided with sound policy over partisan politics. Reps. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Rocks Beach and Vern Buchanan of Sarasota were among 45 Republicans who voted for the bill, but that's not enough to help Democrats override a Bush veto. If only Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville and Adam Putnam of Bartow had been as open-minded and could see the light.
While their opposition was predictable, it was particularly disappointing to see Tampa's Kathy Castor join just seven other Democrats who voted against the compromise bill. Castor has worked hard on this issue and enjoyed a prominent role in passing the original House bill. Her office says she voted against the compromise because, among other issues, it does not make income verification as easy for families as she would like or create a funding formula as favorable for Florida as she wanted. But there were some improvements and significantly more money, and Florida's program is setting records for new applications. Castor's vote to cling to the ideal over the pragmatic seems naive at best. Apparently, it's her way or no way.
The SCHIP compromise isn't perfect, but it would provide millions of children with health insurance who don't have it now. After President Bush vetoes it, perhaps public pressure to do the right thing -- and fear of upcoming re-election campaigns -- will persuade enough House Republicans to reconsider and vote to override the veto. Otherwise, they will have to join the president in explaining to Americans of modest means why an ideological fight is worth more than the health of their children.