Bush Administration Escalates War Against Middle Income Children’s Health Insurance (UPDATED)

“You have to wonder how many people who gave President George Bush the benefit of the doubt in 2000 and 2004, or Ralph Nader voters who truly felt there as “no difference” between the two parties will react to this:

The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a month-long Congressional recess.

So once again, the administration is in effect moving to ignore the wishes of Congress as if the executive branch is the entire goverment. MORE:

In interviews, they said the changes were aimed at returning the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.

After learning of the new policy, some state officials said today that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children by imposing standards that could not be met.

We have said it several times before and some folks get mad and start the “how can you call yourself a moderate” mantra. But we’ll say it again:

You almost can’t be a moderate anymore and be silent as you read this New York Times piece, only the LATEST in a seemingly endless series of Bush Administration Outrage Stories Of The Day that are increasingly defended by the administration’s rapidly shrinking number of lockstep supporters. The Bush administration is not a “conservative” administration — but an increasingly radical one.

Keep in mind that this story is surfacing as some GOPers continue to talk about the need for tax cuts.

Here’s a key quote from an AP story:

The new guidelines could have a dramatic impact on those states as well as any other that wanted to follow in their steps, said Cindy Mann, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

“It’s a pretty radical departure in policy that has been in existence for 10 years,” Mann said. “It attempts to stop in their tracks those states that have already or want to expand coverage.”

So this is no longer matter of the administration just battling a Congressional move to EXPAND this plan.

This is a matter of the administration TAKING AWAY part of this plan from states that already offer coverage go some kids. (I personally know of a 12 year old girl here in California who just learned she has a bad kidney. She is insured by the same insurance GWB is now trying to eliminate.).

PREDICTION:
A lot of voters will cast protest votes in 2008. Hopefully, many Republicans will as well since the Republican party needs to “clean house” and get some new leadership.

And mark this day on your calender:

The administration’s action taken during a Congressional recess represents the the FINAL NAIL in the coffin of the claim of “compassionate conservatism.” The Times again:

Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey, said: “We are horrified at the new federal policy. It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.”

Stan Rosenstein, the Medicaid director in California, said the federal policy was “highly restrictive, much more restrictive than what we want to do.”

The poverty level for a family of four is $20,650 in annual income. New York now covers children in families with income up to 250 percent of the poverty level. The State Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent of the poverty level — $82,600 for a family of four — but the change is subject to federal approval.

California wants to increase its income limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent. Pennsylvania recently raised its limit to 300 percent, from 200 percent. New Jersey has had a limit of 350 percent for more than five years.

We’ve just posted this post so we can’t say “we’re speechless.”

And we’re sure Rush and Sean will have something to say about going after kids’ insurance benefits….most likely praising the administration’s move as they get ready to board their rented private jets after their broadcasts.

And we suspect a lot of voters (and parents and relatives of sick kids) will have lots to say in 2008.

UPDATE: Some additional news stories of interest. These are excerpts so click on the link to read entire piece (we recommend them).
Wall Street Journal: White House Moves to Limit Health-Insurance Program

The Bush administration, after years of allowing states to cover more children from higher-income families through a popular state-federal health-insurance program, is putting the brakes on expansion.

The policy change will affect states that seek to or already cover children from families with income at 250% of the federal poverty level, or $51,625 for a family of four. (The federal poverty level is $20,650 for a family of four.) At least 16 states had received permission over the years to expand to or beyond that level.

The step will also put the administration on a collision course with Congress, which has approved legislation with tens of billions of dollars to expand the program to cover more children. The House and the Senate are expected to work out a compromise after the August recess.

–An ohio-oriented piece from the AP has this:

The latest political football, one that could be tossed deep into next fall’s elections, is an American child without health insurance…..

….”It was a very non-controversial issue that has become very controversial because the president and a group of very conservative Republicans have decided to make this some kind of wedge issue,” said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Simply put, it’s tough for any politician to overcome being portrayed as voting against kids.

–The Reuters report contains this:

The letter from Dennis Smith, the director of the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations, set a high standard for states that want to raise eligibility for the program above 250 percent of the poverty level, the Times said.

Before making such a change, Smith said, states must demonstrate that they have “enrolled at least 95 percent of children in the state below 200 percent of the federal poverty level” who are eligible for either Medicaid or the child health program, the newspaper said.

Administration officials said the changes were aimed at returning the focus to low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage, the Times said.

Deborah Bachrach, a deputy commissioner in the New York State Health Department told the paper: “No state in the nation has a participation rate of 95 percent.”

California wants to increase its income limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent. Pennsylvania recently raised its limit to 300 percent, from 200 percent. The New York state legislature recently passed a bill that would increase its income limit to 400 percent of the poverty level, up from 250 percent, according to the newspaper.

The Washington Post provides this perspective:

The administrative move, announced while lawmakers are out of town during the August recess, comes after the White House has wrangled with Congress for months over the future of the $5 billion-a-year program.

The Senate and the House have passed legislation that would dramatically increase funding and make it possible to sign up millions of new children for coverage. But President Bush wants to keep the program largely unchanged and has promised to veto either bill, saying they would inappropriately increase the federal role in health care.

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. It serves about 6.6 million children annually, but will expire at the end of September if Congress does not reauthorize it.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) yesterday called the new requirements a “drastic change” that “jeopardizes coverage for tens of thousands of children in low-income, working families. New policies like this warrant greater transparency before changes are made. I hope the administration will reconsider.”

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said if the president were serious about enrolling the lowest-income children, the administration would allow states to sign up youngsters for SCHIP when they qualify for school-lunch and other federal programs.

“States want to get these kids enrolled, and they will get them enrolled,” said Emanuel, who helped create the program as a staff member in the Clinton administration. “I think states will see the letter for what it is, and that’s a political ploy by the president. This is a political attempt by the administration to try to intimidate states.”

–The New Jersey Star Ledger:

The new rules would require all states to make families wait a year after they lose coverage before they can apply to the government program, according to the letter. The state would also have to prove that 95 percent of the kids from the lowest income levels were enrolled be fore accepting any child from moderate income brackets.

“It’s a real problem. It’s outrageous,” Kohler said. “This is not happening tomorrow, but it’s clear what the intent is — to shut down our program. … There are no regulations to support this, no legislation to support it. This is CMS deciding to do this.”

–Gene Sperling author of “The Pro-Growth Progressive,” President Bill Clinton’s top economic adviser, and now s a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has a column on Pittsburgh Live:

The story should have gone like this: “In a rare moment of bipartisan goodwill, the Democrat-controlled Congress delivered the politically ailing President George W. Bush a much needed domestic accomplishment: legislation to provide health coverage for 5 million poor or near-poor children.”

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

In a stunning rebuke to congressional leaders, and to the six (out of 10) Republican Senate Finance Committee members who supported legislation to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the White House threatened to veto bills that would have covered millions of children.

To see just how poor the administration’s excuses are for saying no, here are a few choice quotes from the Office of Management and Budget’s veto-threat statements.

–The New York Daily News’ Bill Hammond:

President Bush has a message for the millions of parents who can’t afford decent health care for their children: Stop whining and go to the emergency room.

How else to interpret his stubborn opposition to expanding government coverage for kids, the utterly innocent victims of America’s Swiss cheese health system?

First, Bush threatened to veto legislation – passed by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress – that would give states money to insure millions more low- and moderate-income children.

Then last week, the Bush administration threw a monkey wrench into Gov. Spitzer’s plan for adding 400,000 more kids to New York’s Child Health Plus program. Draconian rules issued by the feds late Friday would make it all but impossible for Spitzer to achieve his worthy goal of near-universal childhood coverage.

These knee-jerk decisions show that Bush either doesn’t understand the crisis of the uninsured or isn’t serious about addressing it.

“They’re playing politics at the expense of all of these children,” said Jennifer Rojas, deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund – New York.