Michael  Franc

During the heady days of 1993 when former First Lady Hillary Clinton assembled a group of health experts to reconfigure our health-care system, liberal strategists realized that the march toward socialized medicine might be a slow and halting one. Thus, they devised several alternate routes to the promised land of a universal, government-run system.

Intriguingly, one of these fall-back scenarios bears an uncanny resemblance to the dramatic expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) now under consideration on Capitol Hill.

One option set forth by Clinton’s health task force was dubbed “Kids First.” “Under this approach,” the task force authors explained, “health care reform is phased in by population [group],” beginning with “the most vulnerable of our citizens -- children.” Kids First, they admitted, “is really a precursor to the new [universal] system” under which states would receive “broad flexibility in its design so that it can be easily folded into … future program structures.”

Those “future program structures” included plans to eventually add other “population groups” to the government’s rolls.

Enacted four years after HillaryCare expired, SCHIP began as a modest program to expand coverage to children in families with incomes up to twice the poverty level ($40,000 for a family of four today). But one decade and some $40 billion later, profligate states have exploited loopholes and transformed SCHIP into a far more expansive program, one that now covers children in families with annual incomes as high as $82,000, their parents, and even some childless adults.

Following the script outlined in the task force memo, liberals lawmakers now want to expand SCHIP to “new populations” by increasing eligibility for this welfare-style benefit to children (including “slackers” up to age 24) in households with incomes as high as 400% of the federal poverty level. In the Senate version, SCHIP’s annual funding level would triple by 2012 to approximately $15 billion. (Liberals also pander to illegal immigrants with a provision that would eliminate the requirement that persons applying for Medicaid or SCHIP services show proof of citizenship.)

The appeal of using children for political gain is undeniable. “You can’t,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres says, “construct a [poll] question on children and health without getting an overwhelming majority in favor of giving health insurance to children.” Voting against more health care for kids, he notes, is “politically stupid.”

Michael Franc

A long-time veteran of Washington policymaking, Mike Franc oversees Heritage's outreach to members of the U.S. House and Senate and their staffs.

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