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Health care crisis calls for better long-term fix than SCHIP

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U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan
October 25, 2007

The heavy politicization of a bill to not only extend but greatly expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, clouds the real nature of last Thursday’s failure to override the president’s veto.


As someone working for reforms that put affordable health coverage within everyone’s reach and who voted against the majority’s SCHIP expansion, I want to clarify what this vote was really about.


It wasn’t to simply extend the current program—something I not only support but have cosponsored.


Instead, this was a vote about whether to adopt a flawed and shortsighted plan for a major expansion of government-run, taxpayer-funded health coverage—driving about 2 million people who already have private insurance into the government program, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.


This raises the question: Why expand SCHIP to people who already have coverage, when so many low-income children remain uninsured? In Wisconsin, for example, 2004-2006 census figures show that roughly 48,000 children at or below 200 percent of poverty (those whom the SCHIP and Medicaid were intended to serve) still lack health insurance.


Among other problems, the bill the president vetoed:


--Relies on the gimmick of a funding “cliff” to hide true costs. After dramatically increasing federal funding for the next five years, it abruptly cuts SCHIP funding by 72 percent, which is below current levels. This makes the cost look much smaller than it would be. A future Congress would undoubtedly increase funding.


--Spends $35 billion over five years to remove 3.8 million people from the uninsured population, leaving 43 million still uninsured. If universal coverage is the goal, as proponents claim, this is the wrong pathway. In order to cover the remaining uninsured under that plan, the federal government would have to spend another $400 billion over that five-year period. This would add at least $8 trillion to the unfunded liability of federal entitlement programs over the next 75 years.


--Goes beyond SCHIP’s original intent, increasing eligibility from poor to middle-income families and allows states to establish eligibility standards—meaning states could expand coverage for higher-income families by excluding certain family income from eligibility tests. In states such as New Jersey—which could still be allowed to cover families with incomes over $70,000—the problem of using tax dollars to subsidize middle-income families that may already have insurance is especially clear.


--Makes it simple for illegal immigrants to fraudulently qualify for Medicaid and SCHIP programs—allowing states to disregard the requirement to view actual identity documents of applicants.


I don’t believe the people I represent want me to vote for a bill that makes it much easier for illegal immigrants to get taxpayer-funded health care. I don’t think they want me voting to spend their tax dollars to cover people who already have insurance. And I don’t think they want me to add potentially another $8 trillion to the debt for our kids and grandkids. There’s a better way. While Washington plays politics, we should insure low-income children. After all, that’s why this program was created.


Paul Ryan of Janesville represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. Send mail to Janesville Constituent Services Center, 20 S. Main St., Suite 10, Janesville, WI 53545; Washington, D.C.; phone (202) 225-3031.



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