The bills ease qualifying criteria, making about 6 million more children eligible for the program. The House version of the bill, more extensive than the Senate's, pays for the expansion by cutting Medicare payments to private insurers who cover the elderly and disabled, and by a big hike in federal tobacco taxes.
The Bush administration has promised a veto, saying the expansion of SCHIP extends government health insurance benefits beyond the poor into the middle class.
Point: We're fighting for the health of our children
Edward M. Kennedy
This week, the United States Senate debated one of the most critical pieces of legislation of our time. The Children's Health Insurance Program is based on one simple and powerful idea - that all children deserve a healthy start in life, and that no parents should have to worry about whether they can afford to take their child to the doctor when the child is sick. Since it was enacted in 1997, when Sen. Orrin Hatch and I worked together to create this program, the Children's Health Insurance Program has been a remarkable success.
An average of 4 million uninsured children are now covered each month, and 6 million are enrolled at some point each year. As a result, in the past decade, the percentage of uninsured children has dropped from almost 23 percent in 1997 to 14 percent today. That reduction is significant, but it's obviously far from enough. Nine million children in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth continue to have no coverage. Nine million uninsured children in America isn't just wrong, it's outrageous, and we need to reduce it as much as possible and as soon as possible.
Studies show that CHIP helps to improve children's school performance. After one year on CHIP, children pay more attention in class and are more likely to keep up with all their school activities. When children receive the health care they need, they do better academically, emotionally, physically and socially. CHIP helps create children to be prepared to contribute to America.
CHIP has had perhaps its greatest impact on minority communities. Sadly, this nation still has persistent racial and ethnic health disparities. Many Americans want to believe such disparities don't exist, but ignoring them only contributes to the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. CHIP all but eliminates the distressing racial and ethnic health disparities for the minority children who disproportionately depend on it for their coverage.
Massachusetts, one of 14 states facing a shortfall in CHIP funds, will benefit significantly from this legislation. Our state now covers children at up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Under the bill, Massachusetts will receive an estimated $304 million in fiscal year 2008 in new CHIP funding. With these new funds, combined with new incentive bonuses, Massachusetts could cover as many as 27,400 children who are now uninsured over the next five years.
It is estimated that seven out of 10 children without health insurance are in fact eligible for coverage under Medicaid or CHIP. Our bill will give the Commonwealth additional ways to enroll many already-eligible children. In addition to "incentive bonuses" for reaching these children, the bill sets aside $100 million for outreach funding.
CHIP will help Massachusetts improve the quality of health care that children receive in Massachusetts and throughout the country. Decent health care for children isn't just an interesting option or a nice idea. It's not just something we wish we could do. It's an obligation.
Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat, is the senior senator from Massachusetts.
Counterpoint: Out-of-touch Congress is wrong again
The recent passage of the SCHIP bill is nothing but another illustration of the business-as-usual mentality down in Washington. Congress has failed us in recent years on so many issues, from comprehensive immigration reform to finding an energy policy that works for America. Instead of fixing a broken system, Congress continues to pass bills that are bad for America.
SCHIP was originally intended to help poor children. Instead Congress worked to expand another big-government program that actually harms those working class children and families it was supposed to help. We all support helping poor children and families, but government seems unable to help those who need us. When I helped organize the largest airlift of aid in New Hampshire National Guard history to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, I saw firsthand how big government programs like FEMA don't work for the American people.
What bothers me the most is the benefits SCHIP gives to illegal immigrants. My great-grandmother emigrated from Poland in 1904; widowed and with four children. She settled in the Merrimack Valley and had very little. America should continue to be the beacon of hope for the world and welcome immigrants. But they must come here legally. I do not support amnesty for illegal immigrants. Laws like the SCHIP bill send the wrong message that our immigration laws are made to be broken, and that it's OK to come here illegally. That is just plain wrong and unfair to American families who depend on those benefits to survive.
The influx of illegal immigration, first and foremost, has strained our schools and hospitals. This bill opens the door for illegal immigrants to apply for Medicaid, because it removes requirements to show identification when applying. Since we have no idea how many illegal immigrants are actually in our country, we have no way of knowing the costs or likely decrease in the quality of care for our children and elderly. In fact, we will probably not know the damage this bill causes in its current form for many years, because Congress is not required to review the bill on a regular basis.
What Congress has done with SCHIP is take a bill that was originally intended to help poor, uninsured children - those who need us the most - and then fill it with reckless spending, cuts to our seniors, and benefits to people who have broken the laws of the United States.
We need a revolution of new ideas down in Washington - a national vision. When my kids were born, I gave them the vision that they were going to go to college and we've achieved that goal. We don't seem to have a national vision anymore. Congress is too focused on partisan bickering and rewarding those who break the rules. As a lifelong farmer, I recognize manure when I smell it, and the people of the Merrimack Valley should be angry that our leaders in Washington are now shoveling it.
Jim Ogonowski, a Republican from Dracut, is a candidate for the 5th District congressional seat.