Deadline To Override President's SCHIP Veto Nears

This story was written by Pegah Yazdy, Daily Bruin
The president's veto of a bill that would have given states an additional $35 billion for SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, has caused many to be concerned about the future of children's health care.

Members of Congress are currently trying to override the president's veto, but if a decision is not reached by Dec. 14, state-run programs may run out of money to keep their programs running.

Approximately 6 million children nationwide are currently insured by SCHIP, according to Jeremy Deutchman, communications director at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Public Health.

SCHIP insures approximately 800,000 children in the state of California, where it is called Healthy Families, Deutchman said.

Claudia Mazariegos, a resident of Bakersfield, Calif., whose 3-month-old son has heart complications, said Healthy Families enables her to drive him to the UCLA Medical Center for his surgeries.

"If I don't have health insurance, we wouldn't be able to get my child covered," she said. "We're not able to pay a lot of money and it's a lot of money to pay for what they did to my baby."

Children up to the age of 19 are eligible for the program based on their family's income and size.

The states rely on the government to fund its programs run by SCHIP, and if federal funding is decreased states may experience a decrease in their funding.

In California, the government puts $2 into SCHIP for every $1 the state funds.

Ron Spingarn, deputy director for the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, said the state program needs $265 million more from federal funds to keep the current children enrolled.

According to Spingarn, after the deadline to renew SCHIP expired Sept. 30, Congress passed short-term funding to support the program for four to five weeks. When a decision was not reached after this period, Congress renewed the funds until Dec. 14, he said.

The current lack of a decision is what has been causing concern among health care insurance companies, Spingarn said.

Sabrina Lockhart, a spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said the governor has been working with the Legislature to push for a comprehensive health care reform which would provide access to coverage for all Californians.

Lockhart said the states have saved funds in past years and carried that over, but the funding for children's health care insurance programs is running out.

"Even if we maintain funding at current levels, California wouldn't be able to keep the program going as it is," she said. "In order to protect the children that are covered under Healthy Families, we'd have to have increased federal funding."

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Pelosi has said she will continue to pursue her goal of insuring 10 million children.

"We're working with Republicans to get a bill that would override the president's veto," he said.

But Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the president asked Congress for a 20 percent increase in funding for the program while the Democrats are demanding a 121 percent increase, which he believes is unreasonable.

"It would not only cut popular Medicare programs, but would increase taxes on working families and push through a program that is a first step toward government-run health care," he said.

Alice Kuo, a physician at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA, said she disagrees because socialized medicine implies that the government controls everything.

"This is just another insurance plan, but this is an insurance plan directed toward the working poor and children," she said.

But Lindsay said SCHIP is a government program administered by the states and the fnding comes from the federal government.

Edward McCabe, physician-in-chief of Mattel Children's Hospital, was among a group of physicians who rallied earlier this month against the president's veto of SCHIP.

McCabe said he believes children's health care is not seen as a priority because families are not as organized as lobbyists for other programs such as Medicare.

"As a result, our politicians always target children's programs," McCabe said. "I think the president is quite honestly playing political football with our children."
© 2007 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE