Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Walberg Votes Against Children's Health... Again

In the United States today, there are 9 million children without health insurance. Suppose we could give 4 million of them coverage by raising federal taxes on tobacco. Would that be something you'd be willing to do?

Apparently, it's not something Tim Walberg would be willing to do. Today (er, yesterday, now), he voted No on reauthorizing and expanding the SCHIP program. The compromise, slightly different from the previous House bill (which Walberg also opposed), passed 265 to 159, with 45 Republicans joining the Democratic majority.

Some coverage from the Washington Post:

A broad House majority gave final approval last night to a $35 billion expansion of the popular children's health insurance program, with members from both parties brushing aside a stern veto threat from President Bush to vote their support, 265 to 159.

The Senate will take up the bill later this week and is expected to send it to the president with a veto-proof, bipartisan majority. But amid furious White House lobbying, even Republican advocates in the House ruefully conceded that they will probably fall short of the 290 votes they will need next week to override the promised veto.

The compromise package would expand the $5 billion-a-year children's health insurance program by an average of $7 billion a year over the next five years, for total funding of $60 billion over the period. That would be enough to boost the program's enrollment to 10 million, up from 6.6 million, and dramatically reduce the ranks of America's 9 million uninsured children, supporters said.

Indeed, the compromise worked out between the House and the Senate has garnered the support of the health insurance industry, AARP, the American Medical Association, governors from both parties and a platoon of children's health advocates.

But Bush and GOP leaders said the measure would push children already covered by private health insurance into publicly financed health care, while creating an "entitlement" whose costs would ultimately outstrip the money raised by the bill's 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.

"The current bill goes too far toward federalizing health care and turns a program meant to help low-income children into one that covers children in some households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year," asserted the White House yesterday, continuing to push Bush's far more modest $5 billion expansion.

Backers of the congressional bill, including conservative Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), have said repeatedly that Bush is dead wrong about the $83,000 figure. Only New York has sought to cover children from families with incomes that high, and the administration turned down the request.

The measure would make it very difficult for states to cover children at higher than three times the poverty level, or $51,510 for a family of three, analysts said. About 70 percent of the children who retain or gain coverage under the bill would be from families earning less than twice the poverty level, or $34,340 for a family of three, according to Genevieve M. Kenney, a health policy expert at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.
Congressman Walberg's website has his reasons for opposing the bill:
“The Democratic bill takes a program designed to aid children of low income families and instead reduces access to quality health care for most Americans,” Walberg said.

The Democratic legislation would:

- Change current law to make it easier for illegal immigrants to receive SCHIP funds, as well as other taxpayer-funded federal benefits

- Include a 61-cent-a-pack increase in federal cigarette taxes and up to a three dollar tax on cigars
Cost more than $4,000 per year for every newly insured child who is added to government’s patient list, compared to $2,300 per year to add a child to a private insurance plan in a typical family of four

- Cover children in some households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year

- Fund SCHIP for adults through 2012

- Contain no income or asset ceiling for receiving SCHIP funds

- Reject requirements that force states to focus their efforts on children in families with incomes of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line

- Require 22 million new smokers to buy cigarettes over the next 10 years in order to fully fund the program
Setting aside some of the questionable facts (like the $83,000 figure), that last one really gets me. The bill doesn't "require" that people keep smoking. It assumes they probably will, and tries to use the poor choices of one generation to help the next one. Walberg makes it sound like if you don't have a cigarette hanging out of your mouth at all times, those nasty Democrats will come after you.

Anticipating Walberg's likely position, the Schauer campaign sent out a press release in the morning:

BATTLE CREEK – As Congress prepares to vote today on a bipartisan plan to provide health insurance for children, State Senator Mark Schauer (D-Battle Creek) called on Tim Walberg to drop his opposition to the legislation. The State Children's Health Insurance Program is set to expire on September 30, and the plan expected to be taken up today would provide coverage to 10 million children.

"Providing health care for vulnerable children is a basic statement of who we are as a country," said Schauer. "I hope that Congressman Walberg will listen to the many community service, health care, and religious organizations that support this and join the bipartisan group of his colleagues to do the right thing."

Michigan's SCHIP program is called MIChild and covers approximately 35,000 children across the state. Unfortunately, it is estimated that currently 110,000 Michigan children are eligible for health care benefits under MIChild or Medicaid, but do not receive them. Without the SCHIP reauthorization at the level proposed, Michigan is expected to face a shortage next year that could force children out of the program.

"One of the reasons I strongly opposed devastating cuts proposed in our state budget debate is that they throw people off of health care," said Schauer. "These are children we're talking about. Walberg and Bush seem to expect them to pool their allowances to get health care, but that just doesn't make sense."

Really, I've got nothing to add. I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm just shocked. My representative in Congress just voted against a bill that would help children get health care. He ignored the facts, peddled right-wing talking-points, and voted against the interests of the district he represents. He voted against something even the insurance industry supports. That doesn't sound like socialized medicine to me.

Tim Walberg voted against the children of the 7th District. Why?

Well, maybe because the Club for Growth told him to. But that's just a guess.

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