House to Vote on Compromise SCHIP Bill

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The House on Tuesday was scheduled to vote on a bill to renew and expand a program providing health insurance to low-income children — legislation that President Bush has promised to veto.

Mr. Bush, during his weekly radio address on Saturday, reiterated his vow to veto the bill that would add $35 billion over the next five years to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP.

The health insurance program provides coverage to about 6 million children and 600,000 adults. Supporters said the bill — under consideration Tuesday in the House and Wednesday in the Senate — would raise that enrollment number to about 10 million children.

On Saturday, the president said the compromise bill is not only too expensive, but "would move millions of children who now have private health insurance into government-run health care."

"Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage — not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage," he said.

But the leading trade group for the private health insurance industry does not think that would happen and has endorsed the bill.

So has the Healthcare Leadership Council, which represents private health-care providers that normally side with the president. At a news conference Monday, council President Mary Grealy singled out a provision of the compromise bill for praise. It would allow states to use their government SCHIP money to help low-income parents pay for their children's' health care through their employer-provided insurance.

"With this provision, we will see families that can be under the same (health care) plan and with access to the same physicians and hospitals," Grealy said.

Others supporters of the legislation have tried to couch their pleas to the president in terms they thought might appeal to him. Here's how Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, put it:

"Reauthorizing SCHIP represents the most humane and pro-life opportunity the Congress and this president will have this year, to ensure millions of children, born and unborn, that they receive the health care they need," she said.

Mr. Bush is clearly right about one thing: many Democrats are using the issue to try to score political points. At a forum on health care Monday in Washington, presidential candidate John Edwards said the president's position on the SCHIP bill is "dead wrong."

"We're going to have more tax cuts for the richest people in the country ... but we're going to take away health care for children? I mean, I just don't think this is where America is. I'm not sure exactly what the president's thinking," Edwards said.

Republicans who helped negotiate the bill are frustrated with the president as well. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said he has already bargained Democrats down to $35 billion from the $50 billion expansion they originally wanted. He also said the compromise includes several changes to the SCHIP program that the president said he wanted.

"It gets adults out of the program. It discourages states from covering higher income kids. At the same time it rewards states for covering more of the lower income kids. It puts the lowest income children first in line," he said.

When the House voted on the original version of the children's health bill last month, it passed by only a handful of votes. That bill also included some highly controversial changes to the Medicare program that have been shelved for now.

Supporters are hoping they override a veto by winning over as many as two dozen Republicans who will not want to explain why they voted against health insurance for children.

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