OK, liberals and Democrats care about “the children.” I get it. It’s not that I believe conservatives and Republicans don’t care about children and gobble them up with their three-martini lunches, but I get that liberals and Democrats care.
We’ll see just how much now that Congress has failed to override President Bush’s wise veto of their $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan. From the White House to Capitol Hill, the veto battle established that there is broad, bipartisan support for the original SCHIP idea. Almost everyone favors funding for state programs that provide health insurance coverage for children from poor families — that is, children from families with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Even Bush wants to add $5 billion over the next five years to the current program. The big fight came over the Democratic leadership’s plan to extend SCHIP coverage to more children, to families making 200 percent to 300 percent of the federal poverty level (and even higher in some cases and to adults).
So why not reach quick agreement on what everyone agrees on — beefing up SCHIP funding for uninsured kids from low-income families? This would help states budget for the children’s health programs they run with federal dollars and give low-income kids the coverage they need and deserve.
But what about lower- to middle-class kids who don’t have insurance? Don’t they deserve attention?
Good questions. The answer is that all these children without health insurance do deserve attention — and not just from their parents. There’s actually a role for government here. It’s just not the government-heavy role found in the SCHIP expansion that Bush vetoed. If you’re really interested in expanding coverage to lower- to middle-income kids without health insurance, why put them all in a big state-run program designed for poor children? Why, as well, would you fund this new middle-class entitlement with a 61-cents-a-pack tobacco tax increase paid chiefly by low-income Americans?
Why, indeed, given that the Democrats’ SCHIP expansion would have brought more Americans into government-run health care systems. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would have caused 2 million children to move out of private coverage they now have and into the expanded SCHIP program. (Parents wouldn’t pay for private insurance for their kids if Uncle Sam provided it “free.”)
Why, indeed, when there’s a more efficient and less-government way to provide coverage for both lower- and middle-income children who don’t have insurance today or might be at risk of not having it in the future. It’s a child health care tax credit for those families. The tax credit could help them buy private health insurance or maintain the private coverage they currently have.
Parents could use the credit to enroll or maintain their kids in their employers’ dependent coverage or to buy coverage on the individual market. The credit would take two forms: a nonrefundable tax credit for families making enough to pay federal income taxes, and a refundable tax credit (a voucher) for families not paying enough in taxes to receive a credit. This child health care credit would help the entire population of kids that Democrats say they worry about — kids in families with incomes between 200 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level. It would help the uninsured kids and insured kids whose parents now labor to maintain their kids’ coverage. And it would do it without herding them into a one-size-fits-all government program with the attendant mandates and bureaucracy.
“Many supporters of an SCHIP expansion have cast the debate as being either ‘for’ or ‘against’ children’s health insurance. This false dichotomy is both disingenuous and a threat to the shared objective of covering more children. In reality, the debate is over the most efficient way to achieve that goal.”
Those are the words of Stuart Butler and Nina Owcharenko, authors of the measured, kid-friendly compromise plan outlined above.
Oh, yeah, they’re health care policy analysts at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. That means they’re conservatives, but that must mean they hate children. I don’t get it.
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