Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander October 21, 2007

“Clearing the Air about SCHIP”

Posted on October 21, 2007

In September, legislation to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) passed the Senate with bipartisan support by a vote of 67-29. SCHIP, begun ten years ago, offers coverage for children in low-income families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance. I voted to reauthorize SCHIP in order to boost Tennessee’s efforts to provide coverage for the state’s neediest children and help compensate Tennessee hospitals that treat a large number of patients who are unable to pay their bills. And, unlike reforms to other healthcare programs, this bill actually pays for the increased coverage without increasing our nation’s debt. The House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving the SCHIP bill. But President Bush, who says he also supports this important program, was concerned that it might cost too much and vetoed the legislation a week later. Now it’s time for us to sit down and work out a bipartisan compromise that will address the health care needs of poor children. The SCHIP legislation ensures health care coverage for the low-income, uninsured Tennessee children who need it the most like the 10,000 children currently being served through the state’s CoverKids program. This bill would reduce the ranks of the nation’s uninsured children by boosting the program’s enrollment to more than 10 million children, up from the current 6.6 million. That means that more of Tennessee’s 127,000 uninsured kids would be able to take advantage of this valuable program. The bill passed by the House and Senate also helps keep Tennessee hospitals afloat by providing a permanent annual Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotment for Tennessee of $30 million per year – the first permanent fix for Tennessee ever approved by Congress. DSH payments help compensate hospitals that treat large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured payments, and until this agreement was secured by Senator Corker and myself Tennessee and Hawaii were the only two states that did not have permanent DSH allotments. Some misinformation about the SCHIP bill has made its way into press coverage. Just to be clear, the final version of this legislation: • Does not expand access to include illegal immigrants. It explicitly prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid and SCHIP benefits. It requires, for the first time, an established process for states to verify citizenship of SCHIP enrollees. • Does not raise the income levels required for a child to be eligible for SCHIP benefits to incomes of up to $83,000. Those income levels, as before, will be determined by states in consultation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). • Does not raise the age of a “child” to 25-years-old and under. The bill doesn’t touch existing federal law, which says: “The term ‘child’ means an individual under 19 years of age.” Once we sit down with the President and hash out a bipartisan compromise to renew the SCHIP program, Congress should turn to reforming the tax code to give uninsured Americans, including the 800,000 uninsured in Tennessee, the ability to afford to buy private health coverage.