No Child Left Uncovered

An editorial in this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine (as well as an accompanying article) argue for renewal of the SCHIP program. They also criticize George Bush for opposing the renewal on ideological grounds. The editorial concludes:

Despite the considerable bipartisan support for the bills, President Bush has made it clear that he will veto any measure that increases costs by more than $5 billion over 5 years, an amount that, instead of providing coverage to additional children, would require ending coverage for children who are already covered. Some senators from his own party are astounded that he has already announced his intention to veto the legislation, even before the two versions of the bills have been brought to a conference committee. His objection to the legislation rests solely on ideological grounds; he believes that expansion of the program will be just another entitlement moving the country toward government-sponsored health insurance, an approach that he has consistently opposed. He further argues that the additional SCHIP funds would be used simply to replace existing private insurance coverage. Instead, the president favors a program of tax incentives to encourage the uninsured to purchase private insurance. In late August, the Bush administration placed new limitations on the use of SCHIP funds for any but the very lowest income children. But in turning his back on SCHIP, the president is finding precious little company; organizations as diverse as the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the AARP, and the Children’s Defense Fund all support the legislation.

The possible merits of the president’s tax-incentive approach deserve debate, but tax reform is a long-term issue that should not stand in the way of the necessary expansion of SCHIP and its September 30 deadline. We believe that the president is making a serious mistake in holding children hostage for the sake of his personal political agenda. SCHIP, a small block-grant program of inarguable merit, is scarcely a stalking horse for universal health care. It is a shining example of what is good about our country. We have enormous wealth, and in our best moments we have been willing to share it with the most fragile members of our society. If the president is sincere in his commitment to leave no child behind, he must begin by leaving no child uncovered.

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