WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate has passed a large expansion of a children’s health insurance program after defeating an amendment to ensure unborn children would be eligible for coverage under its provisions.
Senators voted 66-32 for reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Jan. 29. Final passage of the bill came about five hours after they rejected a pro-life amendment in a 59-39 roll-call vote.
SCHIP is intended to provide 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 measure would cost about $33 billion in less than five years.
The new SCHIP legislation also will continue to enable states to provide coverage for adults, in spite of the program’s name and likely at the expense of low-income children. The new bill will restore adult pilot programs that have expired in some states and will enable those states to receive higher matching funds from the federal government under SCHIP than under Medicaid, according to the Heritage Foundation.
The Senate version differs slightly from the bill previously passed by the House of Representatives. A conference committee of members of both houses will meet to work out differences. President Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, offered an amendment to the bill that would have codified a pro-life regulation implemented by the Bush administration in 2002. That rule permits states to extend to pregnant women and their unborn children the use of funds already available under SCHIP. Fourteen states have approved plans to extend SCHIP coverage to the unborn, Hatch said.
The 2002 regulation, which remains in effect, clarified that the coverage encompasses children from conception to age 19. Previously, SCHIP coverage was allowed for children age 19 and under.
Hatch’s amendment would have heightened protection of the rule by giving it the force of congressionally approved legislation. With the defeat of the amendment, a presidential administration may overturn the “unborn child rule,” as it has become known, without congressional action.
Two Democrats — Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — joined 37 Republicans in voting for Hatch’s amendment. The four GOP members who joined 53 Democrats and two independents to oppose the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
“I think it is tragic that the Hatch amendment failed,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “Once again, the Senate has chosen to turn its back on our nation’s unborn citizens by voting to deny the most economically marginalized among them access to prenatal care that could significantly influence their lives in a positive way. It is yet one more example that America is sadly becoming an anti-child culture.”
Land also expressed his disappointment in the Senate’s passage of the bill, calling the SCHIP expansion “nothing less than creeping socialized medicine by stealth.”
While Land supports SCHIP as originally constituted, he opposes the expansion. It fails to ensure that children from truly low-income households are covered while expanding potentially eligible families to include those who make as much as $83,000 for a family of four, he said. It even would make it easier for states to increase eligibility for SCHIP to families with more than $100,000 a year in household income, Land said.
“Consequently, people with incomes higher than most Americans will now have children eligible for health insurance subsidies originally intended for low-income families,” he told Baptist Press. “It is estimated that somewhere between a third and a half of the children signed up under the SCHIP expansion will be children who will have been taken off the private insurance rolls and put on government-subsidized health insurance.
“The only rational explanation for deliberately designing programs to take children out of private health insurance and on to government-subsidized insurance when they come from families making sometimes from $84,400 to over $100,000 a year is to provide a foundation for increasing government takeover of the health insurance system by using the children as a Trojan horse,” Land said. “That may well be what the Congress wants to do, but they shouldn’t think that we are so foolish as to not understand what they are doing.”
The ERLC opposed two versions of the SCHIP expansion in the last congressional session, each time expressing concern that the legislation would mark a significant step toward government-run health care.
President 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.
The House approved the latest SCHIP legislation Jan. 14 with a 289-139 vote.