On February 5th, President George W. Bush presented his $2.9 trillion budget proposal for the 2008 fiscal year. Prominent in his proposal was a promise to eradicate the budget deficit by 2012; Bush proposed to do this while simultaneously establishing permanent tax cuts for the upper echelons of society and increasing spending on defense and homeland security – but while concurrently decreasing domestic spending, including health care plans. Were his proposal to be passed, this would prove to be a huge problem for programs such as the joint federal-state State Children’s Insurance Health Program (SCHIP) whose funding is already insufficient and which is looking to expand its coverage; one estimate claims that SCHIP needs over $800 million just to cover its deficits. As a direct consequence, the medical coverage of the 6 million children already covered by SCHIP would be endangered and the potential for millions more children, and adults, to receive coverage would be eliminated. SCHIP was begun in October 2007 with the intent of providing healthcare coverage to low-income children who were not eligible for Medicaid. Now that SCHIP’s 10 year plan is coming to an end, they are seeking reauthorization; while both Republicans and Democrats alike believe that SCHIP should not be allowed to expire, “Bush's proposed 2008 budget… would only expand funding by $4.2 billion over the same period.” Bush’s proposal would also cut out parents and pregnant women from being eligible to receive this healthcare unless they were under 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

The less than $5 million expansion of funding that Bush proposes to spend on SCHIP over the course of 10 years, does not even begin to cover what advocates of the group are seeking. Bush’s position is ludicrous as the ultimate goal should be to guarantee healthcare insurance for the children of America. According to United Press International, “more than 60 child health organizations have signed on to a letter to Congress calling for $60 billion in additional funding for the program over the next five years to sustain current enrollment and fund proposed expansions” -- clearly Bush’s proposal does not even begin to cover the funds that are needed. SCHIP should receive the funding that it requests as it is doing tangible good; in 2006, a study indicated that despite the numbers of uninsured people nationwide, the number of uninsured children had decreased by 20% since SCHIP’s inception. There are concrete benefits of medical insurance. For example, uninsured children are two as likely “not to receive any medical care in a given year compared to children with insurance”; additionally, the number of uninsured children who do not have a personal doctor or nurse is nearly triple that of those who are insured. Having the ability to receive medical care from a medical practitioner with whom you are comfortable is invaluable and given the Democratic stance in favor of SCHIP’s proposed expansion and given the federal majority of Democrats, SCHIP will hopefully be able to receive the funds to further pursue its mission.

1 comment:

Demosthenes said...

"Bush’s position is ludicrous as the ultimate goal should be to guarantee healthcare insurance for the children of America."

Perhaps. But sometimes one has to look at the realities of American government rather than ideals. Most estimates place the Medicare deficit in the range of $30 trillion over the next 75 years, a truly mind-boggling figure. For some reason no one in either party likes to talk about this, because cutting health coverage is never popular. By contrast, the estimated budget shortfall for Social Security is less than a seventh of that, and can be fixed with a modest raise in the retirement age and cuts in payments to wealthy seniors. Even so, Social Security reform is an incredibly contentious political issue.

Perhaps this program should be saved. But it is not unreasonable to try to put an upward limit on the wealth of those who are covered. New Jersey has raised the coverage limit to four times the federal poverty level, or $76,000 per year for a family. This is solidly middle class, and when so much stark poverty goes unaddressed it is unclear why the government should spend an additional $60 billion over the next five years that it cannot afford.

The common response to any sensible Republican talk about cutting the budget is "if it weren't for the war in Iraq, there wouldn't even be a defecit." First of all, that's just factually wrong. Sorry. Second, our massive defense budget is an issue, but a different one. To bring it up when someone tries to address the massive deficits that the retirement of the baby boomer generation will create is a shameless red herring. The Iraq war is here to stay, at least until 2009, and it should not be used as an excuse for wastefulness.

Inevitably, there will be a compromise on SCHIP. No one seeks to eliminate an enormously popular and successful program, and no one can ignore the pressing issue of the budget. And this is how it should be. But to justify spending money on a program on the basis that it needs more money is dangerous circular logic.