Oct 102004
 

On Sept. 30, 2004, the deadline for Congress to act on preserving $1.1 billion in federal funds for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) ? the program which focuses on insuring the kids of the working poor ? was allowed to expire. The money was taken away from the states and returned to the U.S. Treasury. The White House could have stopped these funds from being taken from the states by requesting that Congress extend the time states had to use the funds in the 2005 budget. Over the objections of the National Governors Association and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, the administration decided not to ask for the extension. And according to the watchdog group Families USA, the White House actually "opposes bipartisan legislation that would give the states additional time to use the funds," and conservatives in Congress refused to schedule it for a vote.

$1.1 BILLION GOES A LONG, LONG WAY: According to Families USA, if President Bush hadn’t allowed the deadline for states to use SCHIP funds to expire, 750,000 children could have been insured. For example, the state of Ohio would have enough to cover 11,400 kids; Florida could have insured 27,000 kids; and in the state of Texas, more than 44,000 children could have been insured.

KIDS STILL IN NEED: According to the most recent Census data, the number of children living in poverty increased dramatically last year. There were 12.9 million children living in poverty in 2003, 800,000 more than the year before. And that means more kids at risk of losing health insurance; the most recent data show 8.4 million American children remain uninsured.

SLASHING SCHIP: AP reports, "State budget pressures threaten to undo gains in health insurance coverage for children and the poor." State budgets face a projected shortfall of nearly $40 billion going into 2005; the administration’s 2005 budget, however, proposed slashing state grants by 3.3 percent. To deal with the crippling budget strain, many states now are folding to pressure to slice health care for the poor. A new study by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation shows between April 2003 and July 2004, nearly half of the states in the U.S. took some measure to make it harder to sign up for or stay in SCHIP. And SCHIP enrollment fell for the first time in 2003, as states instituted "eligibility cuts, capped enrollment and raised premiums." Right now, 4 million children rely on SCHIP for health insurance.

MEDICAID IN TROUBLE: Children make up nearly half of the 52 million people who receive Medicaid. A separate Kaiser Family Foundation study shows every state in the nation is currently planning some measure to cut Medicaid in 2005, "including restricting eligibility and reducing benefits." The president has done little to help and, actually, has proposed making it worse. The state budget crunch has been exacerbated by the expiration of $20 billion in temporary fiscal relief, which was enacted in part to make up for federal tax cuts and the withering economy. (Ten billion dollars of that was directly for Medicaid.) In 2003, the president proposed "block granting" Medicaid, which would end the flexible funding. Without flexible funding, the recent surge in the uninsured would have been much larger; while 5 million more Americans were uninsured in 2003 than in 2000, almost 6 million more Americans were assisted by Medicaid during this period.

MEDICARE LEGISLATION MAKING THINGS WORSE: The Kaiser Family Foundation found state health programs face further strain by the financial burden generated by implementation of the White House Medicare prescription drug benefit. States are facing expensive new administration costs surrounding the new benefit. And three-fourths of all states are worried about a pricey provision that requires states to make payments to the federal government to finance the drug benefit, saying it will "more than offset any potential savings." Today, only three states have reported they have the money allocated to meet these challenges.

DOCTORS AGREE ? ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HARM KIDS: Thirty-six leading American pediatricians ? including well-known author T. Berry Brazelton and six past presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics ? released a joint statement this week "condemning President George W. Bush’s neglect of child health concerns, as well as objecting to other administration policies that are harmful to the wellbeing of children." The statement charges, "The Bush administration’s policies are moving us away from effective and longstanding federal commitments that improved the health of children, commitments proudly initiated and supported by previous Republican and Democratic presidents?If not reversed, these ill-advised tax and budget policies will erode decades of hard-won health gains for children, while still leaving unaddressed such critical problems."

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