Senate Finance Committee Republicans have called on President Bush to stop an administration practice of granting and extending waivers that allows states to enroll adults into their State Childrens Health Insurance Program just one day after he criticized efforts on Capitol Hill to extend the program to a wider swath of individuals.
In letters sent to both Bush and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said that they were committed to returning the federal-state SCHIP program to its focus on low-income children but that HHS-administered waivers have allowed states to enroll more and more adults into the program.
The mess created by the waivers makes it even more difficult to reauthorize SCHIP, Grassley, the leading Republican on the committee, said in a statement. The waivers made program costs mushroom and led to funding shortfalls.
The unusual exchange between lawmakers and the White Housedescribed by one healthcare analyst as political gamesmanshipcomes at a time when Bush has angered many lawmakers after publicly attacking their legislative blueprint to reauthorize the program. SCHIP officially would end Sept. 30 unless Congress takes action to renew it.
On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee drafted a roadmap to fund the program at $35 billion over five years, using a 61 cent increase in the federal tobacco tax to largely offset the costs. But a blueprint in the House goes much further, giving the program an additional $50 billion over five years and would include a host of other healthcare proposals. The House version, too, would use a tobacco tax increase to help defray costs, but would also tap what some consider overpayments to Medicare Advantage health plans as another revenue source.
The Finance Committee is expected to draft a bill by weeks end, with a mark-up slated for July 17.
Still, in Cleveland on Tuesday, Bush used some of the strongest language yet to hint at a possible veto if an SCHIP bill lands that would encourage people to transfer from the private sector to government healthcare plans. -- by Matthew DoBias