Kids First

Mitch McConnell

8/8/2007 10:52:07 AM - Mitch McConnell

Sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing. If you doubt that, look no further than the hijacking of a successful federal program by some in Congress.

The program at risk is the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which helps provide health insurance for children in families too well off to qualify for Medicaid but still poor enough to have difficulty affording private insurance.

In many ways, SCHIP—or K-CHIP, as it is commonly known in Kentucky—has proved a remarkable success. The rate of uninsured children in America has dropped 25 percent from 1996, the year before the law was enacted, to 2005. Last year, 6.6 million children had health care because of SCHIP, with over 50,000 of them in Kentucky.

So when SCHIP came before the Senate for reauthorization, I was hoping to support it, as I did 10 years ago. I also hoped to improve upon it by adding tools to help find and enroll the kids out there who qualify but still lack health care.

Unfortunately, that's not what others in Congress had in mind. They viewed the reauthorization of this popular program as a license to raise taxes, increase spending and take a giant leap toward government-run health care.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office puts the true cost of their new proposal at $112 billion, $41 billion more than the claimed price tag. To pay for it, the bill's sponsors want to more than double the federal tax on tobacco.

That would strike directly at farmers here in Kentucky and hinder our state's economy. Many of the people who will pay the higher tax are from low-income families—the very families SCHIP was designed to protect.

They also want to extend SCHIP to people it was never meant to cover. As the name implies, the State Children's Health Insurance Program was intended to cover children, not adults.

While Kentucky operates a responsible program, a number of other states have exploited loopholes to use their children's health funds on adults. Rather than closing these loopholes, the new proposal protects states that raid their kids' health funds.

They also propose allowing families in certain states, like New York, who make four times the federal poverty level to still qualify for SCHIP insurance. That means a family in New York City making $82,600 a year will be able to drop the private insurance they currently have for their kids and use the federal dime instead.

Luring people away from the private market this way will eventually remove two million people from private health coverage. Some in Congress hope this eventually leads to a complete government takeover of health care.

SCHIP was originally created to help the needy. But it's clear the authors of this new proposal have gotten greedy.

That's why I proposed an alternate bill, the Kids First Act, that focuses on SCHIP's true goal: protecting low-income children. It would reauthorize SCHIP for five more years, ensure that children stay enrolled by adding $14 billion on top of the current SCHIP budget, and add 1.3 million new kids to the SCHIP program by 2012.

Just as important, my plan would do so without raising taxes or increasing the deficit.

Not only does the Kids First Act cost significantly less than the liberals' bill, but many states, including Kentucky, would have more SCHIP funds to spend covering kids next year under my proposal than under the more expensive alternative.

The Kids First Act also improves upon current SCHIP law by providing funds to reach out to those low-income children who are eligible, but still not taking advantage of the program.

And it will help small businesses provide coverage for their employees by allowing them to band together for greater purchasing power, making health care more affordable.

Like many Americans, I'm frustrated about much of our current health care system. But I don't believe that raising taxes, discouraging families from buying private insurance or letting adults leech off a program designed for children should be part of the solution.

All of those actions would put us on a slippery slope toward government-run health care. Instead, Congress should protect a program that works, and make sure that low-income children who rely on SCHIP for health insurance stay covered.