• California’s Healthy Families may have to disenroll hundreds of thousands of children
• California delegation could be key for veto override
President Bush today vetoed the reauthorization of the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), to the anger of health, consumer, and children’s advocates. California’s version of the program, Healthy Families, now covers 850,000 children.
With extended federal funding, the program has the potential to meet its promise to cover the rest of California’s uninsured children. Unfortunately, the veto today could force the program to disenroll hundreds of thousands of Californians children.
This veto hurts hundreds of thousands of California’s children, who may need to be disenrolled from health coverage. This also makes health reform in California harder–and more urgent. In particular, our Republican Representatives should vote with their state and Governor and the children of their districts to override the veto, rather than with party loyalty to their President. The California delegation can help make the difference in getting a veto-proof majority for this already overwhelmingly bipartisan bill.
The Senate already has a veto-proof majority, with both California Senators supporting the bill. The House vote was a broad, bipartisan majority, but was 25 votes short of the 2/3 veto-proof majority. California’s Democratic delegation voted overwhelmingly for the bill, but only one or the 19 Republicans–Rep. Mary Bono–voted for the measure. If a number of Californians vote for the measure, an override is possible.
On the other hand, if the veto is upheld and federal funding not extended, federal money will run out for the program in a few months, according to independent estimates. President Bush has also suggested that Congress extend the program at current funding levels.
Because California is using federal dollars saved from earlier years of low enrollment, an extension on current levels would not be enough to even keep the children covered who are currently enrolled, much less accept new enrollment. Such a proposal, as proposed by Rep. Barton, would force California to have to dis-enroll hundreds of thousands of children from the Healthy Families program, according to estimated commissioned by The California HealthCare Foundation. The choice for California would be cruel: either to continue to cover all the children in the program until the money runs out in summer 2007, potentially leaving all the children without coverage; or to immediately disenroll around 250,000 children in October.
Background: Schip’s Success
The SCHIP program has been largely successfully since it passed 10 years ago with bipartisan support, enrolling 6.6 million children nationwide at a time when private health coverage through employers has been declining. In California, 850,000 children receive benefits from the Healthy Families Program.
States Seek To Expand
Coinciding with efforts to re-authorize SCHIP, many states, including California are looking to expand the number of children who are eligible for SCHIP/Healthy Families. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his January health reform proposal, suggested that families earning up to 300 percent of poverty ($61,950 for a family of four), should be able to obtain coverage through this program.
Currently, in California, families earning up to 250 percent of poverty ($51,000 for a family of four) qualify. A few other states with high costs of living, like New York, have more more generous expansions for families earning 300 or (only in New Jersey’s case) 350 percent of poverty.
Bush favors funding the program at only $5 billion more over the current level over the next five years – rather than the additional $35 billion proposed. Such a proposal would force California to create a waiting list for children wanting to get coverage, and probably disenroll some already on the program.
Additionally, Bush proposes to scale back eligibility – only allowing those who earn 200 percent of poverty ($41,300 for a family of four) or less to qualify. That would reverse gains made in 18 states, including California, who have eligibility limits higher than the 200 percent of poverty threshold. In California, that would mean 190,000 children would lose coverage.
Failure to extend and expand the SCHIP program could also endanger California’s efforts to pass a health reform and provide near universal coverage this year.
Health Access California is a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups.
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