Politics & Policy

Protecting S-CHIP

Overextending the program hurts those who need it most.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, has become the target of political games in Washington. S-CHIP was rightly intended to provide health insurance to kids whose families barely miss qualifying for Medicaid, something everyone agrees is a good idea. However, Washington liberals are attempting to overextend the program, hurting children already on the program and worse yet, hurting children who qualify for S-CHIP but who are not currently enrolled. S-CHIP is for children who need it, not adults and not the middle class.

Created in 1997 by a Republican Congress and President Clinton, S-CHIP was created to help families on the cusp of the Federal poverty line. The program received tremendous bi-partisan support and is a strategic safety-net designed to get children necessary care instead of visits to the emergency room. Through a federal and state partnership, children of families making up to $41,300 receive health insurance, but unfortunately some children are simply not enrolled.

In my state of Louisiana, Governor Kathleen Blanco recently reported that 68,250 children in Louisiana now qualify for S-CHIP but are not enrolled, and current legislation before Congress would not aim to sign up these 68,250 children before thousands more children and adults from wealthier families were added. Nationally, the number of eligible but un-enrolled children tops 500,000. In addition, Governor Blanco admitted her intent to include thousands of illegal immigrants in the program. I want S-CHIP to focus on registering those kids who currently qualify, before overextending the program to those for whom it was not intended. The disparity between those who qualify and those who are enrolled limits the ability of children who need to see primary care physicians. Our governor must do her part to reverse declining S-CHIP enrollment and fix the lack of healthcare that stems from bureaucratic burdens set by her administration. Other governors must do the same.

To those who say the program is too expensive, I say S-CHIP makes fiscal sense. Extending health insurance to children whose parents make just above the poverty line allows them to see a doctor, when an emergency room visit is much more costly and leads to lengthy waiting lines. Also, S-CHIP relieves some of the anxiety faced by many families suffering from a lack of portable healthcare insurance.

The arguments being waged by Washington liberals suggest a lack of coverage exists. As a physician, I support increased funding to cover those children who now qualify for the program. S-CHIP is a critical program for many families, and ensuring that the funds go to children in need is a necessary responsibility. Overextending the coverage is careless and will only hurt those S-CHIP is intended to help. Even with S-CHIP or Medicaid coverage, children still face significant access problems when seeking care. According to another of the Governor’s reports, families often have trouble finding a primary care practitioner. This must be fixed before our children have true, reliable access to healthcare.

Finally, stalling a vote and refusing to debate S-CHIP in Washington is irresponsible politics at its worst. It has been more than a week since the president’s veto, and members on both sides of the aisle agree that a compromise exists. However, the Democratic leadership, directed by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, refuses to reconsider the legislation in any form. They believe pressuring members to support their overextension is timelier than fighting for 500,000 children across the country who are eligible, but who nonetheless go without needed health insurance.

I support S-CHIP, and I am committed to ensuring it is a successful program that helps the children who need it and the children for whom it is intended. The children of Louisiana and the children of this nation deserve that much and I urge my colleagues in Washington to find a viable compromise. It’s about protecting S-CHIP for the children who truly need it.

–Congressman Charles W. Boustany Jr., M.D. is a physician and serving his second term in Congress.

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