The National Governors Association made a plea for Congress to approve emergency funds for the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, although news reports say President Bush in meeting with the governors today ignored the SCHIP issue and instead encouraged the use of tax credits to buy private coverage.
The measure should be moved as soon as possible in the form of a stand-alone bill or on the first legislative vehicle, the governors wrote in a letter dated Feb. 26 to House and Senate leaders. At least 14 states face funding shortfalls including Georgia, whose shortfall may appear as early as next month. In the meantime, original sponsors of the SCHIP legislation called for more expansions to the program at an Alliance for Health Reform briefing today.
The Bush administration wants to tighten the requirement to pay for children from families who are below the 200% poverty level, although 16 states currently include children who are at 300% or more of that rate. (In 2007, the federal poverty level is $20,650 for a family of four, except in Alaska and Hawaii.)
The question is whether we in Congress are going to prioritize the needs of kids just in the lower end of 200% of poverty, or are we really going to try to work things out with the states to cover more children and make SCHIP a national priority, said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
It would be ideal to make SCHIP into a universal program, although in practice its unlikely this would ever happen, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told the alliance briefing. The hope is to rearrange it, reauthorize it and provide enough funds to keep SCHIP in business, Hatch said. At least $12 billion to $15 billion in new money is needed to sustain the program, he added. -- by Jennifer Lubell