Ken McElroy Online

SCHIP Chicanery

Ken McElroy
September 10, 2007

Even by Washington, D.C. standards, where spin and duplicity are too often the rule, the debate over the expansion of the SCHIP program has been particularly dishonest.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is a federally funded program, administered by the states, that provides health coverage to low-income children who aren't eligible for Medicaid but whose families can't afford private insurance. Or that's what some in Congress, state officials, and their media allies would like Americans to believe.

Congress is now debating an expansion of the program; the Bush administration opposes the expansion and has threatened a veto. This opposition is being met with the usual cries from the usual quarters basically charging that the mean, uncaring Republicans are seeking to shaft poor, unfortunate kids who only need health care coverage. The usual cries are, as usual, mostly just disingenuous blather.

The response of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was typically vapid: "Why would he [President Bush] go after children?" Schwarzenegger asked at a Capitol news conference. "Don't do that. Don't start taking money away from children."

The governor didn't express any similar concern for the taxpayers, and their children, who he would take money away from to pay for all of "his" generosity.

Essentially, the Democrats' ultimate goal is to bring socialized medicine to the United States, but they learned they couldn't do it straightforwardly and in one big step in the early 1990s, so they've been trying to do it incrementally ever since, this time by trying to sneak it in while hiding behind "poor" kids. The proposed expansion to SCHIP is simply a means to this end.

What's important to note here is that, while the Democrats are portraying the SCHIP program as one aimed at low-income kids, the proposed expansion is not limited to the poor or to children. That's right, what are supposedly the two key aspects of the program - "low-income" and "children" - are not part of this bill.

The government-defined poverty level is $20,650 per year for a family of four. New York already covers children in families with incomes up to 250 percent of the poverty level, or over $50,000 per year. The state legislature there has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent of the poverty level - $82,600 for a family of four. California wants to raise the limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, or about $62,000 per year. These can hardly be considered low incomes. They're well above the U.S. median household income of $48,200.

Compounding the dishonesty: just as the proposed expansion of the program isn't limited to those with low incomes, it isn't limited to children either. One provision of the proposed bill allows states to offer coverage to "kids" up to 25 years old! Even in the era of widespread immaturity we're living in today, 25 year-olds aren't usually considered children, except apparently by lawmakers who wish to make as many people as possible dependent on government.

Furthermore, there's nothing opponents of the expansion are proposing that would prevent the states from covering more kids' health care, or offering full coverage for every person in their states for that matter. Individual states have always been free to do this. Governors and legislatures can devise any programs they want in their own states - "free" comprehensive medical coverage for all, full dental, chauffeur service to the doctor's office - you name it. They just don't have any legitimate right to demand that the taxpayers of every other state pay for their largesse, let alone under the guise of a program purported to insure low-income children.

It's just so easy for state officials in California or New York to demand that working people all over America cough up the cash to subsidize people who are earning more than $60,000 or $80,000 a year, while proclaiming how much they care about "the children". There's nothing easier in fact than being generous with other peoples' money (and no better way to buy votes, of course).

If the Democrats want to argue that people earning over 80 grand a year ought to be on the federal dole, then they should try and make their case, but they can't claim it's all about poor kids. Well, they can, if they're able to fool enough people. But it simply isn't honest. Even those who want to bring a Canadian-style, taxpayer-funded, socialized health care system to the United States should want the issue debated with some basic level of honesty by our elected officials. That's not what we're getting now.