To: Reporters, editorial writers, editors
From: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn
Re: State Children’s Health Insurance Plan
Date: January 13, 2009
The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is a successful, popular, bipartisan program that provides private health care coverage for millions of children who would otherwise go without care.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives will vote on the expansion of SCHIP, a move that would bring health coverage to 4.1 million low-income children who are eligible for the program but not yet enrolled. With this legislation, SCHIP would provide health insurance to a total of 11 million children. Though providing health care to more needy children enjoys broad public support and has long been a goal of a bipartisan majority in Congress, President Bush repeatedly vetoed bills to do so. But in the midst of a recession, providing health insurance for low-income children is more vital than ever; the House leadership is hopeful that the prospects for SCHIP becoming law are better than ever with expanded Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a President-elect who has a strong record of supporting children’s health care.
Healthcare for 4.1 Million Kids:
Morally Urgent, Economically Compelling
Expanding SCHIP is the right thing to do: The uninsured live sicker and die sooner than the rest of us. There is no more medically pivotal time in life than childhood—and those who don’t receive healthcare during their early years are set up for lives of endangered health. Every other developed nation in the world understands this point and chooses to provide healthcare for all of its children. The United States stands alone in its failure to do so.
The economic argument for SCHIP expansion is equally strong, because expanding health coverage is much more cost-effective for the taxpayer. Today, millions of uninsured children are forced to use the emergency room as a primary care provider—an option that is far more expensive than the preventive care that could nip many health problems in the bud. SCHIP coverage makes it easier for parents to seek preventive care for their children, lowering healthcare costs for all of us. And with growing unemployment and stress on family budgets, healthcare coverage for these children could also reduce a huge source of economic instability. As Yale University’s Jacob S. Hacker writes, access to affordable health care could be “an immediate economic lifeline for working families.”
The SCHIP expansion bill also gives states permission to waive an arbitrary waiting period of five years to enroll immigrant children who are in America legally—a sensible provision for many reasons. This restriction denies access to critical health services that legal immigrant children —whose parents pay payroll taxes—are eligible for. Furthermore, the five years during which they are denied coverage puts a higher burden on emergency rooms across America, costing all taxpayers more. This provision does not allow federal funds to support benefits for individuals who are not lawfully residing in the United States.
President Bush’s Campaign Promise
Accepting the Republican nomination in 2004, President Bush said, “In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for government health insurance programs.” The President was referring to SCHIP, and he was stating an admirable goal, one overwhelmingly supported by the American people. But in 2007, President Bush twice vetoed legislation to cover millions of low-income children. Despite strong support in both chambers and days of intense compromise negotiations, Congress was unable to override those vetoes.
Today, however, we are preparing to inaugurate a President-elect who campaigned on the promise of expanding access to affordable healthcare. We hope that Democrats and Republicans will vote in strong numbers to send this vital bill to President-elect Obama as soon as possible and take this first step toward rethinking America’s costly and inefficient healthcare system.