D.C. Politics Over Kids' Health Care

Bush promises to veto bill that would increase funding.

Aug. 26, 2007 — -- A major battle is brewing in Washington over children and health care.

Nine million children nationwide are without insurance. As high as that number is, it was much higher ten years ago. That's when the State Children's Health Insurance Program was launched.

SCHIP has provided insurance to millions of American children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford private insurance.

The program is supported by Republicans and Democratic governors alike. Congress wants to add billions more dollars to the program to expand its reach. But the White House opposes the expansion. A new move by the Bush administration could limit federal funding for the program.

The debate comes down to ideology: should the government be the vehicle for expanding health coverage, or is that best left to the marketplace?

Bakersfield, Calif., resident Russell Lacey and his wife make around $50,000 a year. They say their two sons would not be insured if it were not for SCHIP.

Over the past decade, states have gradually expanded who is eligible for the SCHIP.

In New Jersey, for example, families earning nearly $73,000 qualify for the program. Cases like that have become a point of contention.

"The program is going beyond the initial intent of helping poor children," President Bush recently told an audience in Cleveland. "It's now aiming at encouraging more people to get on government health care."

Now, the Bush administration wants to reign in the program, but states coping with spiraling health care costs are furious.

"When everyone's pulling their hair out about health care, and we've got a ready-made program that's working for us, we shouldn't change something that's working," said Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey.If the government cuts funds to the program, children in 18 states could be affected. In New Jersey alone, 29,000 children could lose coverage.

The move comes just as the Democratic-led Congress prepares to send the president a bill to dramatically increase funding for the program. Bush has already promised to veto the bill.

"We are at a Crossroads. Are we going to go more to a government system or more to a system that give individuals the opportunity and the responsibility to choose and own their own insurance and benefit from using the system in cost effective way?," said Daniel Johnston of the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation.

Bush said in July that people have access to heath care in America: "After all, you can just go to an emergency room."

That is exactly where the Laceys fear their kids will end up if they no longer qualify for SCHIP.

Kate Snow contributed to this report.

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