And expand they have. Fifteen states cover kids and families above 200 percent of the poverty level. New Jersey covers kids up to 350 percent of the poverty level. New York wants to go to 400 percent. By making it explicit that federal SCHIP dollars will fund programs up to 300 percent of the poverty line (and occasionally even higher) and by throwing an additional $35 billion at the program throughout the next five years, the Democratic bill guarantees the program will grow well beyond its original purpose of insuring "near-poor" kids.
This makes sense only as a step toward national health insurance for kids. An astonishing 47.1 percent of children are already eligible, as a matter of their family's income, for government insurance (although other factors, such as immigration status, might make them ineligible). Of children in families between 200 percent and 300 percent of poverty, only 9.8 percent were uninsured in 2005. There are less-sweeping means -- like tax credits -- to help these families get coverage in the overregulated, and therefore overly expensive, private health-insurance market.
Meanwhile, there are 5.5 million poor or near-poor kids -- roughly 60 percent of all uninsured kids -- who are eligible for public insurance now, but aren't enrolled in public programs. These unenrolled kids are likelier to come from single-parent or no-parent families and families where all parents are unemployed. They are a hard-to-reach population, but the focus should be on them rather than families with the wherewithal to fend for themselves.
Few things are as destructive of good public policy as outraged invocations of the "children." Democrats probably will benefit politically from their ploy on SCHIP, and advance a goal that goes far beyond low-income kids.