The healthcare industry is putting pressure on the White House and Congress to work up a new compromise to reauthorize the State Childrens Health Insurance Program after last weeks veto of a bill that President Bush deemed too costly.
In a week filled with strong rhetoric from all sides, there were no indications that a compromise would be reached anytime soon. But hospital executives have made it clear they want Congress to either override the veto or work with the White House on an alternative to get coverage for children from low-income families who qualify for the program.
Weve called on hospital leaders to urge their lawmakers to override President Bushs veto to provide children healthcare they need and deserve, said Richard Umbdenstock, president and chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association, in a written statement. Hospitals fully support renewing and expanding SCHIP to give even more kids the opportunity for a healthy beginning in life.
A veto override vote is already in the works, though it appears it wont take place for a few weeks. The House set the override vote for Oct. 18. In the House, 290 votes are needed to override a veto, provided that all 435 members are present. It fell 19 votes short of that goal on Sept. 25 when it voted 265-159 to approve the bill.
It remains to be seen if House Democrats can get enough swing votes to make this happen.
Delaying the veto vote buys the majority more time to sway Republican opponents into voting for the bill, although Rep. Joe Barton
(R-Texas), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saw it as a way to play politics with the issue. If it was such a rush last month, you would think that it would still be a rush now and wed want to get the veto out of the way and work together to come up with a bill that the president would sign, he said in a written statement. The Senate would vote only after a successful House vote.
Wayne Sensor, chief executive officer of not-for-profit Alegent Health in Omaha, Neb., said that Congress faces a steep hill in getting the votes to cancel out the presidents veto. The care we provide for children is critical, and we hope and believe there is room for a compromise on identifying the populations of children who should be covered by the program, he said.
Other healthcare organizations such as the Catholic Health Association and the American Medical Association are backing an override vote. By vetoing legislation to reauthorize the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, the president has just played partisan politics with the lives of 10 million children in desperate need of healthcare coverage, said Sister Carol Keehan, the CHAs president and CEO, in a written statement. It is now time for Congress to do what is right for our nations children and vote to override the presidents veto.
Some of the protests in and outside Capitol Hill werent as restrained. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, went so far as to call President Bush a one-man axis of evil.
The veto contradicted Bushs pledge during the 2004 presidential campaign to enroll uninsured children into public health coverage so they would have a healthy start in life, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, in a written statement. The presidents veto is a slap in the face to Americas children, Pollack said.
The House-Senate compromise bill that Bush vetoed last week would have provided an additional $34.7 billion to the SCHIP program over five years. The House-Senate compromise would fund the program at roughly $60 billion, over the baseline of $25 billion, over five years.
Funded by a federal cigarette tax, the bill would have extended coverage to about 10 million children, covering nearly 4 million new enrollees. There were not enough votes in the House to override a presidential veto. I am disgusted by his veto of a bipartisan compromise, Stark said of Bushs decision. Bush wanted to fund the program at only $30 billion, adding $5 billion to the baseline over five years.
Poor kids, first, is the reason Bush gave for vetoing the bill, during an address last week. Bush administration officials have argued that the bill would have moved children from higher-income families making up to $83,000 a year into government insurance, and promoted socialized medicine.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said at a briefing that the president wants to make sure that the children who are eligible for Medicaid and SCHIP who arent currently enrolled are served first.
If people think that that $5 billion is not going to be able to serve that population, hes willing to talk about, well, then what number would be? Perino said.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt seems optimistic that the White House and Congress could achieve a compromise to reauthorize the 10-year-old program. The Bush administration believes there are ways to help children in these income brackets attain insurance, but SCHIP is not the way to do it, Leavitt told reporters at the end of September.
Children in families earning less than 200% of the poverty level should be put at the front of the line for the SCHIP program, he said. The poverty level is $20,650 for a family of four.
In his address, Bush said that he was willing to work with members of both parties, and if they need a little more money in the bill to help us meet the objective of getting help for poor children, Im more than willing to sit down with the leaders and find a way to do so.
Bush on Sept. 29 signed a budget resolution that would temporarily extend funding for the program, specifically helping 13 states whose SCHIP allotments have dried up. The continuing resolution, which provides temporary funding to SCHIP, is valid through Nov. 16.
That funding life raft, so to speak, wasnt enough to placate some of the states. Last week, eight states announced their intention to take legal action against the Bush administration over a separate policy it issued in August to tighten restrictions on covering children from middle-income families in SCHIP.
Under the new policy, states would have to guarantee that they have successfully enrolled 95% of the eligible children from families below 200% of the poverty level in either SCHIP or Medicaid to expand their coverage to children from families with income above 250% of the federal poverty level.
Four statesIllinois, New York, Maryland and Washingtonhave filed lawsuits to challenge the policy. In addition, Arizona, California, New Hampshire and New Jersey will be filing amicus briefs.
The Bush administrations draconian rules, issued without going through the standard rulemaking process, would severely curtail states ability to provide healthcare to low-income families, said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire during a teleconference on Oct. 4.