Congress, president debate SCHIP bill


U of M medical faculty, students concerned about plight of uninsured families, need for federal funding of Minnesota Care.

President George W. Bush’s veto of a children’s health-care bill Oct. 3 has ignited controversy from Capitol Hill to hospitals around the country.

The legislation would have reauthorized the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which ended Oct. 1, and would have increased the program’s funding.

Money from the federal program provided funds to states, which was used to provide health insurance to children in low-income families that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private health insurance.

Lynn Blewett, associate professor of health policy and management, said when the program was introduced in 1997, it had bipartisan support and she believes it has achieved its goals.

“It has reduced the number of uninsured children by about nine million children,” she said. “The problem is there is limited funding and many states have reached their capacity in terms of their SCHIP allotment.”

Prior to the president’s veto, the SCHIP bill was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 265-159 Sept. 25, and 68-31 in the Senate Aug. 2.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., voted against the SCHIP bill, but said she still supports the program.

“This bill was not signed into law because, sadly, it plays politics with children’s healthcare,” Bachmann said in a written statement.

“I hope that House leaders will do the right thing and bring up an SCHIP bill that we can all support.”

Jesse Hennum, chief resident in pediatrics for the University’s medical school, said he wasn’t surprised by the veto, but is frightened for the future of pediatrics.

“Every child deserves health care,” he said, “and what we know is that children with health insurance have better health care. I think the future of pediatrics in the next 10 years and beyond is more uncertain.”

In a speech Oct. 3, Bush said he vetoed the legislation because the program’s federal funding was leading to the federalization of health care.

While the Senate has the two-thirds majority votes to override the veto, the House would need 24 more votes to reach that two-thirds majority.

Third-year medical student Jon Papic said he thinks new SCHIP legislation would be an important step toward the “ultimate goal to provide insurance to every child.

“It is necessary that children have reassurance that someone will provide for them,” he said.

Some states, including Minnesota, used SCHIP funds to provide for people other than children.

U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., said on “Face the Nation” Oct. 7, “The issue with this bill is that states like Minnesota and Wisconsin are diverting the money away from covering these poor kids and they’re putting it into other things.”

Karen Smigielski, Minnesota Department of Human Services spokeswoman, said Minnesota directed its SCHIP funds to a program called MinnesotaCare.

“A lot of states have stand-alone programs just for children,” she said. “Since Minnesota had MinnesotaCare before the SCHIP program came along, we weren’t able to receive funds for kids.”

MinnesotaCare provides for parents of children eligible for the program, as well as pregnant women, Smigielski said.

Blewett said even though Minnesota didn’t use its SCHIP funds exclusively for kids, it was still vital for the state’s health care system.

Bush said in his speech that he was willing to consider a revised version of an SCHIP bill.

“If they need a little more money in the bill to help us meet the objective of getting help for poor children, I’m more than willing to sit down with the leaders and find a way to do so,” he said.

Blewett said she expects there will be a compromise, but hopes officials will focus on the larger problem of expensive health care in America.

“We should cover children,” she said. “There is no doubt about that. There’s just no affordable options in the private market for many families.”