SCHIP Politics Punish Children of Color

By Kai Wright Oct 23, 2007

by Kai Wright When President Bush vetoed the bipartisan children’s health bill last week, the administration said he aimed to put “poor children first.” But what the White House has actually done is once again put an ideological agenda ahead of America’s wellbeing—and cynical distortions ahead of reality. Predictably, the administration’s hammer will fall most heavily on children of color, for whom the state-run network of public insurance programs, called SCHIP, has been a lifeline. Since its creation in 1997, SCHIP has cut the number of uninsured black children by nearly half and the number of uninsured Latinos and Asian Americans by almost a third each, according to the research and advocacy group Families USA. Vast disparities remain, as racial and ethnic minorities still account for 60 percent of the roughly 9 million uninsured kids. So a broad swath of lawmakers came together this year to finish the job. They crafted a compromise bill that would have allowed SCHIP to cover 3.8 million more kids and thereby cut the number of uninsured by nearly half. The president vetoed it. The White House has spun a dizzying array of misinformation to justify what polls have shown to be a stunningly unpopular move. Bush primarily claims he can’t support the bill because it opens SCHIP to middle-class families but does nothing to draw in more of the poor children who are already eligible but not enrolled. Yet, a full five weeks before Bush’s veto, the Congressional Budget Office reported exactly the opposite: 85 percent of the kids who would be newly covered are currently eligible but not enrolled in public insurance. The claim that the bill covers middle-class children is equally fantastic. The bill includes fiscal punishments for states that let in families who earn more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level—which adds up to around $62,000 for a family of four. Three quarters of those covered by the bill would have incomes less than $41,300 for a family of four, according to Families USA. Apparently, the president considers that middle class. Perhaps it was that claim’s weakness that prompted the White House’s resort to race baiting. The administration said the bill would cover illegal immigrants, when in fact it plainly continues the existing policy of excluding legal immigrants until they’ve been in the country for five years. Finally, Bush said he nixed the bill because Congress hadn’t worked with him. To the contrary, leading members in both parties repeatedly sought compromise with him. But the White House isn’t interested in compromise; it’s interested in advancing a zealous campaign to dismantle government health programs in favor of a predatory private market. We’ve seen this playbook before: Repeat lies until they pass for truth. Stonewall both friends and enemies alike. And push ahead with a predetermined agenda, regardless of facts on the ground. That approach to policymaking created a foreign policy disaster, and it will spawn similarly disastrous results for our children’s health.