The Bush administration is hoping to douse a plan to increase taxes on tobacco to fund an expansion of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program.
Administration officials last week touted a new Urban Institute study that tallied a much lower number of uninsured children living in low-income families than the numbers now used by proponents of SCHIP expansion. The report seemingly gives ammo to a White House that has insisted all along that adding $50 billion in fundingthe dollar amount favored by many Capitol Hill Democratsis unnecessary.
But healthcare providers quickly made moves to refute the study, which was commissioned by HHS, and less than 24 hours later made a pitch to hike the cigarette tax anywhere from 30 cents to 75 cents per pack to help fund SCHIP.
In a conference call with reporters, the American the Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, Americas Health Insurance Plans, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Families USA and others countered with a survey showing that voters would overwhelmingly back an increase to the federal cigarette tax to help defray the costs of extending and expanding childrens health insurance coverage.
The report, released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, shows that the 67% of respondents support a tax increase, while 28% said they oppose it. Whats more, support for the tax hike comes from Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, according to the poll of 1,000 registered voters. The telephone poll was conducted by the Mellman Group from May 29 to June 3, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Tom Nickels, senior vice president of federal relations at the AHA, said that healthcare providers routinely see the negative effects smoking has on patients while seeing the positive impact that the State Childrens Health Insurance Program has on overall health. Healthy kids turn into healthy adults, he said.
The provider and health insurance communities have said that they want federal lawmakers to increase the tobacco tax in order to provide a good chunk of the funding to reauthorize and expand SCHIP.
Earlier estimates by the Congressional Budget Office show that an increase of 50 cents on the federal tobacco tax would generate about $26.6 billion over five years. SCHIP is set to expire Sept. 30.
Data cited by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network show that for every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes, there is a corresponding 7% drop in youth smoking rates and a 4% decline in adult smoking.
The last-minute jockeying comes just weeks before the Senate is expected to consider SCHIP reauthorization. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to make some final revisions to an SCHIP reauthorization bill sometime this month ahead of sending it to the full Senate.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, assailed the Urban Institute report, calling it politically motivated.
Pollack was one of many healthcare policy experts that disputed HHS new, lower estimate on how many children are eligible for the program.
The study, which was conducted for HHS by the Urban Institutes Income & Benefits Policy Center, reaffirms President Bushs proposal to target an appropriate amount of funding for SCHIPs original target audience, which is low-income children at or below 200% of poverty, HHS stated in a summary of the findings.
The analysis shows that 689,000 uninsured children are in low-income families that fall below 200% of the federal poverty level and are not currently enrolled in SCHIP. That number would rise to 794,000 if all children eligible under the different state qualifications and uninsured for at least a year were included, according to the study.
This estimate is far lower than previous estimates made by congressional Democrats and other interest groups. To HHS, this demonstrates that adding $50 billion in additional funding is unnecessary, as is expanding SCHIP to children in families with higher incomes, the department concluded.
To Bushs critics, the new estimates appear to be part of a transparent effort to revive the administrations proposal to limit new SCHIP funding to levels far below what Congress is considering, according to a statement from Georgetown Universitys Center for Children and Families.
The data contradict the federal governments own numbers, Pollack said. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have examined findings conducted annually by the Census Bureau and have found that approximately 9 million children are uninsured, and that approximately two-thirds of these children have incomes that make them eligible for either SCHIP or Medicaid, but they are not enrolled, Pollack said.
Both the House and Senate approved budget blueprints earmarking $50 billion above its baseline over the next five years. Proponents of this language claim this money would cover the 6 million currently enrolled in the program, plus an additional 6 million children who are eligible but not enrolled, over 10 years.
Meanwhile, lawmakers on the Hill chimed in with their own estimates.
Leading researchers have found that
1.7 to 2 million uninsured children, not 800,000, as the HHS report indicates, are currently eligible for SCHIP, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), offered that the HHS report flies in the face of all accepted data on the number of uninsured American children who desperately need and could receive health coverage through a renewal of SCHIP.
This new low-ball figure for eligible children does nothing to change the Congressional Budget Office finding that the administrations budget proposal for SCHIP would not only fail to reach additional children, but would result in 1.4 million kids losing their SCHIP coverage, Baucus said.
Baucus said the finance panel will craft a robust renewal of the Childrens Health Insurance Program based on the actual facts.