By Justin Thompson
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
WASHINGTON Backers of the Children’s Health Insurance Program gathered in the Capitol Monday to defend the proposed legislation and step up the pressure on President Bush to sign the bill.
Two senators joined a chorus of medical and civil rights groups to urge approval of the proposed SCHIP legislation, which would extend coverage to millions of children who are eligible but are not currently receiving benefits.
The president has vowed to veto the expanded bill and called for Congress to send him a temporary extension of current law so children don’t lose coverage when SCHIP expires on Sept. 30. It remains unclear if sponsors of the bill would have enough support to overturn a veto.
The program began in 1997 as a way to ease the health care burden for families with incomes above the federal poverty level but still had trouble affording health care for the children. Typically, that included families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
Since then, the number of children receiving assistance has jumped from 660,000 in 1997 to about 6.6 million in 2006, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The president claims expanding coverage would transform the program into a “government-run health care system.” He has also decried the projected $35 billion increase in funding.
But proponents of the bill which the House could pass as early as Tuesdaysay that too many low-income families are left out and, while the program covers more than six million children, another 10 million need coverage.
“We’re not changing the law,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont, who attended the press conference. Baucus pointed out the proposed revision would cut back on providing coverage to parents of children eligible for SCHIP.
The health advocacy group Families USA, which released a report on America’s uninsured last week, organized Monday’s conference. Also on hand were representatives from the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Catholic Health Association, the American Cancer Society Action Network and the National Medical Association.
Rich Umbdenstock, the president of the National Hospital Association, said the effects of children living without health insurance can be dramatic, such as an ear infection causing deafness.
“They show up more seriously ill than they should be,” he said. “Insurance matters.”