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ERLC: Bill inches toward socialized medicine

WASHINGTON (BP)–Compromise legislation on a health insurance program for children would move the United States nearer socialized medicine if approved, the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has warned.

The Senate and House of Representatives are expected to vote Sept. 25 and 26 on the final version of a bill to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Members of the Senate and House from both parties agreed Sept. 21 on a compromise measure, or conference report, to send to both chambers, according to the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The compromise version improves on the original bills passed by the Senate and House, but it still contains provisions that require the ERLC’s opposition, a spokesman said. The commission and other pro-life organizations have not seen the final report from the conference committee but have been told provisions in the House-approved version that would remove protections for unborn babies and the elderly have been deleted.

“I appreciate the efforts of the conferees to address pro-life concerns in the reauthorization,” said Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research. “Nevertheless, the bill still represents a significant movement toward socialized medicine that I do not believe most Americans want.”

In an article on the ERLC’s website Duke wrote, “SCHIP should be reauthorized, but not expanded to include families who can afford to provide health care for their children without government assistance. The money used by the government to insure these children will be taken away from other families who need to provide for their children.

“The compromise language proposed by the Senate and House negotiators moves our nation closer to a government-run health care system, which will be less efficient and less patient friendly.”

SCHIP provides federal funds to states to cover children in low-income families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but unable to afford private insurance. SCHIP, which went into effect in 1997, has provided $40 billion over the last 10 years, reducing the number of uninsured children by about two million during that time.

The compromise version to be voted on by Congress would expand SCHIP by $35 billion over five years, according to reports. President Bush, who has proposed a $5 billion expansion, has said he would veto the legislation. He has urged Congress to pass a temporary extension of SCHIP before it expires Sept. 30.

Under the version approved by the conference committee, SCHIP would be enlarged to cover families of four that earn as much as 300 percent of the federal poverty level, about $62,000 a year, Duke said. It also would permit New York “to grandfather in” its effort to include families of four at 400 percent of the poverty level, more than $82,000 a year, he said.

“The ERLC supports reauthorization of SCHIP in accordance with its original design, as a means to provide health care for the millions of children in this country whose parents cannot afford to provide it for them,” Duke wrote.

Despite its shortcomings, the present U.S. system “is much to be preferred,” Duke said. “What is needed is a plan to cover those who cannot possibly cover themselves, while our nation continues its unprecedented economic growth and makes it possible for more and more people to be able to afford a health care plan of their own choosing, paid for out of their own income.”

Bush said in his Sept. 22 radio address that the compromise expected to be approved by Congress “would move millions of children who now have private health insurance into government-run health care. Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage -– not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage.”

Some Republican members of Congress took issue with Bush’s portrayal of the compromise measure and urged him to reconsider his veto promise.

“The president’s understanding of our bill is wrong,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, according to The Hill newspaper.

ERLC President Richard Land lived under a nationalized health care system in England from 1972 to 1975. He opposes socialized medicine for Americans, he said on the ERLC website.

“I am convinced that thousands of people die every year in Britain who would not die if they were being treated under the American health system,” Land said. “The bottom line is that a government-run health system would mean significantly worse health care for 80 percent of our population, with only marginally better care for the bottom 20 percent.”

The SCHIP reauthorization went to a conference committee after the Senate passed its version with a 68-31 vote Aug. 2. The House had approved Aug. 1 an even more expansive version in a 225-204 vote.

According to reports pro-life leaders have received, the compromise version maintains the status quo in SCHIP on a five-year-old, Bush administration rule that enables states to include unborn children in the coverage, said Douglas Johnson, federal legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. It also reportedly excludes a provision passed by the House that would have had the effect of prohibiting the elderly from supplementing government payments for Medicare health insurance with their own money, resulting in the likelihood of health-care rationing and involuntary euthanasia, Johnson told Baptist Press.

Duke encouraged those who agree with the ERLC’s position on SCHIP expansion to ask their senators and representative to vote against the compromise measure. They may be contacted by e-mail through the ERLC website, www.erlc.com, or by phone through the Capitol switchboard, 202-224-3121.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.