Whenever someone in government makes a proposal and says it's 'for the children' you know you're about to be screwed. The 'for the chidren' argument is one of pure emotion and when it's being used you can be sure that there's no rational way to argue for that piece of legislation, usually because it's such a bad idea that based on facts and logic no one would suppprt it.
That's exactly the situation with the State Children's Health Insurance Program which is being considered today in the House and later this week in the Senate. It's a massive handout to health insurance and medical companies to the sum of $35 billion dollars and it's also a back-door attempt to impose a fiscally irresponsible and inefficient national health insurance program on the states whether they want it or not.
The SCHIP program started out humbly enough as an attempt by some states to provide basic health insurance coverage to poor kids. As such it was a bit of a gift to health insurers because the insurance provided under the program was limited, but the original concept of the program was modest and genuinely aimed at the needy who didn't quite qualify for Medicaid. It was taken over by the federal government, but remained relatively limited in scope and expense. It was also given a limited term and as a result has come up for renewal this year. The problem is that rather than just renewing the program as it existed, members of Congress, under intense lobbying from the insurance industry, have decided to go beyond just renewing the program to massively expanding it.
For the Democrats this expansion of the program is an opportunity to get a foot in the door for national health insurance and a number of Republicans are going along because it always looks good to be doing something 'for the children'. But the real driving force here is that those supporting the bill extension get a great many campaign donations from health insurance industry groups who really like the idea of having $35 billion in taxpayer money given to them for a program which is cheap for them to administer and has relatively few claims. What's more, the income they receive is even more than the federal share, because states pitch in billions more for the program and most states also require copayments and small nominal premiums from many of those insured. All told the payoff to the insurance companies is in the neighborhood of $60 billion or more.
The new expansions to the program also take it far beyond the original intent. Rather than being limited just to kids in families with incomes at 200% of the poverty level for their states or lower, coverage is being extended to include continuing program participants up to the age of 25 and family incomes up to four times the poverty level or $82,600 a year, which means a lot more people being covered, many of whom ought to be able to pay for their own insurance without government assistance. The new version of the bill also places more demands and limitations on the state governments, making it essentially an unfunded mandate which will be hard for many states to comply with unless they find ways to charge participants or taxpayers more.
If you doubt who this program really benefits, do a search on the web for SCHIP. What you'll find is hundreds of web pages from insurance companies and insurance industry groups touting the wonderful benefits of the program and overlooking the unnecessarily high costs and marginal quality of the service provided to those insured under the program. The truth is that they see it as free money and an opportunity to move health coverage for the poor away from the federal government under Medicaid and towards a government funded but enormously profitable privately managed program.
At a time when the federal budget is bloated with pork and war spending and running at a significant deficit which ultimately gets added to our staggering government debt, expanding this program which mainly benefits health insurance companies is incredibly irresponsible. President Bush promises to veto the bill unless it is rewritten as a simple extension of the existing program with some additional controls added, but as I write this it is likely that the House has already voted to pass the bill and it will be up for approval in the Senate before the end of the week.
No one seems to be making much of an effort to point out the problems with this program or make lawmakers aware that an expensive expansion of this program is not in the best interests of anyone but insurance companies and government bureaucrats. It's bad enough by itself, but as the first step towards a huge new healthcare entitlement that also funnels tax money to private businesses, it's an outrage.