The Bush administration, fighting efforts by states and Congress to expand a popular U.S. health program for children in low-income families, is making it more difficult for families to sign up.
In an Aug. 17 letter to state health officials, the administration imposed new standards that White House spokesman Tony Fratto said today would prevent the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or Schip, from becoming "essentially a middle-class entitlement.''
President George W. Bush has threatened to veto bills passed by the House and Senate to expand funding for Schip, which now covers 6 million children. [SCHIP was created in 1997 to help insure children whose families earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance on their own.]
The new policy sets more-restrictive standards for states that want to expand eligibility to households above 250 percent of the poverty level, which amounts to $51,625 in annual income for a family of four. Tens of thousands of children would become uninsured in at least 23 states that provide, or plan to provide, coverage exceeding these limits . Under the new rules, a state must show that a child whose family earns more than 250 percent of the poverty level has been uninsured for at least one year before being signed up for coverage. In addition, the state must demonstrate that at least 95 percent of its children from families making less than 200 percent of the poverty level have been enrolled either in Schip or Medicaid.
"This drastic change in policy sets states up to fail and jeopardizes coverage for tens of thousands of children in low- income, working families,'' said Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in a statement.
"I can't try and guess what kind of mind-set would foster this, but it's certainly penny-wise and foolish,'' said Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, in a telephone interview today. The proposal "cuts down the ability of the states to provide medical care to children."