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Daytona Beach (Florida) News Journal: More Local Children in Jeopardy if Bush Vetoes S-CHIP Health Bill

By threatening to veto crucial child-health legislation, President Bush is playing politics with kids' lives. Among those lives: More than 9,000 Volusia and Flagler county children who could lose coverage if the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) isn't reauthorized.


The program's effectiveness should be obvious to anyone who takes an honest look. Healthy Kids (Florida's S-CHIP-funded program) gives children access to checkups and medicines they need to thrive. Without it, many would have care only through hard-to-find free clinics and hospital emergency rooms.


Florida politicians -- including former Gov. Jeb Bush -- could be among the most effective advocates for the program, because they've watched it from the beginning. Inspired by a hospital-district-funded pilot in Volusia and Flagler counties, Florida lawmakers created Healthy Kids in 1990. Unlike Medicaid, Healthy Kids isn't a handout; instead, it uses tax dollars to help lower the cost of private-sector health insurance policies for children. The subsidy varies with the child's age and the family's income level; the lowest-income families are still eligible for Medicaid.


The Florida program became the model for the national S-CHIP in 1997. Nearly 7 million American children now have health insurance, thanks to this program.


But roughly 9 million children still lack coverage. Bush is unhappy with a Senate compromise that would add $35 billion in federal funding to the program and allow 3 million children to be added to the program. Presumably, he's even less pleased with a House proposal that would add $50 billion. The House proposal would go much farther toward eliminating the large number of uninsured children, and both programs would be funded by an increased cigarette tax and matched nearly dollar-for-dollar by state governments.


Bush's own proposal would increase funding by a miserly $5 billion, which, after inflation, actually translates into a $9 billion reduction in funding over the next five years.


The president's flimsy arguments against a real expansion of S-CHIP are easy to knock down. He complains that the program would subsidize coverage to families making as much as $80,000 a year. What he fails to say is that states would make that call -- and receive no extra federal funds for doing so. (Only one state -- New York -- allows participation at that level.) He also claims the program would encourage too many people to switch from private policies to what he calls 'government insurance.' That ignores reality. Programs like Healthy Kids can already use the private sector to buy insurance, and most states follow that route.


Bush tipped his hand most, however, in a press conference Thursday when he started talking about pushing S-CHIP toward an 'individual market' and a 'consumer-based system.' Translated, that suggests that Bush is eyeing a drastic shift to a program that's likely to be less effective -- employing gimmicks like health savings accounts and high-deductible plans, putting more profit in the hands of the health-insurance and finance industries while erasing economies of scale and wrecking the quality-control measures that keep parental satisfaction so high.


Bush wants to abandon American children -- and their parents -- to the vagaries of the same marketplace that denied them coverage in the first place. It's a position so reckless and irresponsible as to be immoral -- and one Congress should reject by approving S-CHIP legislation by a veto-proof margin.