This program helps kids, plain and simple. Here's hoping we override the president's veto.
President Bush has vetoed only four bills since he has been in office, and today the House of Representatives will vote on whether to override his most recent veto -- of legislation that would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
SCHIP was created 10 years ago to help provide health care for children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. The program is economical -- it needs less than $3.50 a day to cover a child -- and cost-effective, because children who have access to routine preventive care from a family doctor don't have to rely on emergency rooms for their medical care.
But despite the success of SCHIP, there are still 9 million children living in America who do not have health insurance. Two-thirds of these children are eligible for SCHIP, but more funding is needed to identify and enroll them. The bipartisan bill that President Bush vetoed would expand SCHIP and lift nearly 4 million additional kids off of the rolls of the uninsured, where no child belongs.
This legislation has broad, bipartisan support. Forty-three governors, including Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty and 15 of his Republican colleagues, support reauthorization of SCHIP. This legislation sailed through the Senate with a bipartisan, veto-proof majority and passed the House with the support of 45 Republicans. Today, as this same bipartisan majority votes on a veto override, I can only hope that my colleagues who have concerns about this bill will join us.
I believe these concerns, such as those expressed just a few days ago in these pages by my colleague Rep. Michele Bachmann are overblown.
Some have expressed concerns that, under this program, wealthy parents will enroll their children in SCHIP instead of providing them with private health insurance. But if these concerns were well-founded, then private insurance companies would be leading the charge against an expansion of SCHIP. Instead, they are among its strongest supporters.
Under SCHIP's public-private partnership, private health-care plans work with individual states to cover uninsured children. That is why this legislation has been endorsed by America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association. In other words, SCHIP is as good for America's health-care industry as it is for keeping America's kids healthy.
What about the claim that SCHIP will provide health insurance to illegal immigrants? That is completely false. No illegal immigrants are covered by the bill, and any claim to the contrary is simply disingenuous.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would take an additional $14 billion to keep SCHIP operating at its current levels for the next five years. The fact that President Bush has proposed only $5 billion in additional funding for a program that provides health insurance to America's poorest children reflects how shamefully misguided his priorities are.
The budgets we work on in Congress are more than just fiscal documents; they are a reflection of our moral values as well. In choosing where to spend money, members of Congress choose what priorities they value.
Expanding SCHIP is a powerful statement about the value that we as a country put on our children's health. Today I will vote to override President Bush's veto, and I urge my colleagues in the House, including Rep. Bachmann, to join me. For the sake of the millions of children living in America without health insurance, I hope that we will be successful.
Tim Walz, D-Minn., is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
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