SCHIP: A Good Program Marred by Bad Policy

Today, the House of Representatives passed the Senate-amended reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by a vote of 290-135.  This is a federally funded program that is supposed to provide health care to low-income children whose families cannot afford private health insurance.  While I believe that this is a good program and I support initiatives to bring health care to children who need it, I cannot support this reauthorization.

To begin with, applicants are not required to present proof of their identity, other than a verbal presentation of their Social Security number.  This weakens the standards to determine which children are eligible and opens the program up to abuse and fraud.  In addition, families making up to $88,000 per year will be deemed eligible for free healthcare at taxpayer expense.  Maybe in the Speaker’s hometown of San Francisco $88,000 a year is considered “low-income,” but I think most Americans would agree that is not true.  Before we expand this program to middle-class children and adults, we must ensure that proper health care is provided for low-income children.

Finally, under the reauthorization, the expansion of SCHIP will supposedly be funded by an increased tax on tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars.  However, the use of tobacco products has dramatically dropped in the last few years and studies show that another increase in price will cause that number to drop even further.  This means that in order to fully fund SCHIP for the next ten years this country would need 22.4 million new smokers.  If that is not accomplished, then an additional tax will have to be levied on the American taxpayer making this bill a regressive tax in disguise.

This bill is yet another example of a problem that is becoming more commonplace in the 111th Congress.  Rather than allow for committee consideration and debate, Speaker Pelosi crammed this bill across the floor of the House of Representatives and barred all amendments and input from the minority.  SCHIP is a good program that has been subjected to bad policy.  It is unfortunate that the Speaker chose to pass this important bill in this manner instead of allowing a real discussion that would ensure SCHIP is a successful and financially viable program.  I hope that the legislative procedure for future bills, especially of this magnitude, will be slowed so that everyone may be involved in the process.