President Clinton's proposals to expand healthcare benefits for children would cost more and cover far fewer kids than originally promised, the Congressional Budget Office said last week.
Republican leaders said the news will prompt Congress to reject the president's plans. Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said Congress would "go back to square one" in developing a children's healthcare package because the CBO had estimated Clinton's proposals would cost $21.9 billion over five years and cover only 800,000 children.
In his original budget request for the 1998 federal fiscal year, Clinton proposed a package that included health insurance subsidies and Medicaid outreach and enrollment initiatives. The administration estimated the package would cover 5 million of the 10 million uninsured children.
The White House estimated the cost at $18.4 billion-close to the $13 billion to $18 billion that Congress and Clinton agreed to spend on children's healthcare in their balanced-budget agreement.
After the CBO released its estimates, however, Thomas said Congress would have to draft its own plan.
"Any representation by the president in the State of the Union, in his budget, that his plan covers 5 million kids is simply not so," Thomas said.
White House officials stressed that it was more important to get the commitment to expand children's healthcare coverage than get the administration's package enacted.
"The bottom line is 5 million children insured. We're hoping to find the best and most efficient ways to do that," said White House lobbyist John Hilley. "People on both sides of the aisle have ideas about whether it's best to target Medicaid or grants to the states. That we'll work through."
So far, several basic ideas have emerged both from Congress and the administration. Among them are increasing enrollment among children eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled, guaranteeing one full year of enrollment to children once they qualify for Medi-caid, or granting money to states to fund children's healthcare coverage.