Saturday, May 18, 2024

House CHIP Proposal Fails to Focus on Children

by Montana's CongressmanDenny Rehberg
| September 5, 2007 12:00 AM

Montanans have heard a lot in the news in the past several months about the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Since the program was started in 1997, it has done wonders for kids who don't qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private health insurance both in Montana and across the United States. In fact, as of last month, 14,304 Montana kids are enrolled in CHIP and have benefited from the coverage it provides. This program is working and it should be reauthorized so it can continue to work for the kids that need it most.

In August, House Democrats brought to the floor their version of reauthorization. Sadly, their plan is more about DC-based government-run healthcare than the needs of our children and has turned a bipartisan issue into political fodder. Additionally, the bill creates overwhelming costs on American taxpayers and cuts essential Senior Health Insurance programs which have benefited thousands of Montanans.

To begin with, the bill includes a $50 billion expansion of CHIP. Sounds good, right? Well, as with most things, the devil is in the details? In Montana, 19,000 kids who are already eligible for CHIP or Medicaid aren't enrolled. Before we begin expanding the program, we should encourage those who haven't already taken advantage of it to do so.

Additionally, the bill doesn't cap income eligibility for enrollment in the program, leaving it to the discretion of individual states. In fact, in some cases under the new proposal, a family of four with an earned income of $100,000 a year would qualify for CHIP whether they can afford private health insurance or not. In the end, fiscally responsible states like Montana will be left paying for health insurance for east coast families earning triple the average Montanan.

The bill also does nothing to prohibit adults from enrolling in CHIP. If we want to provide additional health insurance for low-income adults, let's address that at a separate time. The "C" in CHIP is for "children." The Democrat bill would continue to allow childless adults to enroll in a children's program. Additionally, the bill includes eligibility for "older" children going all the way up to age 21. By allowing childless adults to enroll in the program, we're taking away from those who can't provide for themselves.

Furthermore, the bill repeals a long standing provision banning benefits from going to non-U.S. citizens. Coupled with relaxed documentation requirements needed to qualify in the bill, taxpayers will be left paying for the healthcare costs of illegal and legal immigrants. Again, this takes the focus off America's kids.

As the Democrats continue to expand the program to those who don't need it, they are pushing forward an agenda of eliminating affordable, reliable health insurance from private providers and shifting to an inefficient, costly, government-run healthcare plan. Knowing they can't win this debate in the sunlight of public scrutiny, House Democrats are resorting to sabotaging a children's health program in order to play ideological games.

Congress must be accountable to taxpayers for the laws it passes. This bill will completely change the CHIP program. In the process, the bill cuts $194 billion from the Medicare Advantage program, which provides health insurance to 15,931 seniors in Montana, in order for us to pay for the expansion. Reducing funding for one vulnerable population, in exchange for another, is simply bad policy. It's wrong for us to pit seniors against kids in a battle for healthcare.

The Senate approach, while not perfect, is a much more common sense plan for CHIP reauthorization. The Senate bill prohibits childless adults from enrolling and phases out current enrollees by 2008. Additionally, it prohibits CHIP funds from going to non-US citizens. This bill includes these and other common sense provisions that the Democrats in the House have failed to address.

Ultimately, I support the House alternative CHIP legislation. This measure stops the out-of-control spending increases included in the Democrats bill, puts financial caps on income eligibility, and addresses many of the same issues as the Senate bill. Further proof there are fiscally responsible proposals available that will provide for America's neediest children.

Montana kids deserve to have their healthcare needs addressed. However, the House Democrat bill has made the welfare of our children a political issue based on a narrow, extremist political ideology. I'm hopeful that the Senate will move forward its common sense proposal, that the House Republican plan will be given a full hearing, and that we can hold further discussions on what's best for kids before the final piece of legislation is sent to the President.