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Evangelicals reject SCHIP insurance flaws

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved Jan. 14 a large expansion of a children’s health insurance program that was twice vetoed by President Bush.

The measure, which received House endorsement only six days before President-elect Obama is sworn in to succeed Bush, is enthusiastically supported by the new chief executive. Senate approval of the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) appears likely. After the House vote, Obama said in a written statement he hopes “the Senate acts with the same sense of urgency so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am president.”

SCHIP provides federal funds to states for health insurance coverage of children in low-income families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but unable to afford private insurance. SCHIP provided $40 billion during a 10-year period beginning in 1997.

The new, House-approved bill would cost about $33 billion in less than five years.

The 289-139 vote in the House occurred shortly after the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity issued a message to its e-mail list calling for opposition to the legislation, though it supports the original SCHIP.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, followed with a Jan. 15 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, asking him to work against the House-passed bill.

Among the reasons for ERLC opposition to the House-approved legislation, Land said in the letter, is its failure to ensure low-income children are covered while expanding potentially eligible families to include those who make more than $80,000 a year.

“We fully support continuing the program that has helped millions of impoverished families provide health insurance for their children,” Land said. “But given the economic situation our country is currently facing, we need to make sure that our scarce federal money is directed toward those most in need. Legislation such as [the House-approved bill] does not do that.”

The House-passed bill, H.R. 2, also would eventually cause families with private health insurance to move into government coverage, “which would be less efficient and less patient-friendly,” Land said.

In its 2009 legislative agenda, the ERLC had said it would refuse to back measures “that increase dependence on government beyond those programs the poor need to give them a fair chance to work their way out of their impoverishment.”

The ERLC opposed two versions of the SCHIP expansion in the last congressional session, each time expressing concern the legislation would mark a significant step toward government-run health care.

Bush vetoed both versions in 2007, and the House failed to override his action both times. In each case, Congress’ version would have expanded SCHIP by $35 billion over a five-year period and the president’s proposal would have increased it by $5 billion.

In the Jan. 14 House vote, 249 Democrats and 40 Republicans supported the bill. Two Democrats joined 137 GOP members in voting against it. Reps. Bobby Bright of Alabama and Jim Marshall of Georgia were the sole Democrats to vote “no.” Bright, elected to his first term in November, is a member of First Baptist Church in Montgomery.

“While SCHIP has been a tremendously successful program in the country and in Alabama and its reauthorization is incredibly important, I had reservations about the bill in its current form,” Bright said in part in a statement after the vote. “In particular, like some in the Senate, I am concerned about the legal immigrant provision and what that could mean for the future of this program. SCHIP’s reauthorization is an ongoing process and the Senate is expected to make changes to the bill. I look forward to reviewing the Senate version of the bill and working towards the goal of more children having access to affordable and quality health care.”

The House version covers the children of legal immigrants, according to The Washington Post. Sen. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, says the provision violates a century-old law that mandates sponsors of new immigrants must promise they will not burden American citizens financially, The Post reported.

The Senate version of the proposal does not currently enable states to provide coverage for immigrants, according to The Post.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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