White House Strategy Behind SCHIP

Robert Siegel talks with White House counselor Ed Gillespie about SCHIP and other political matters.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Well, joining us now to defend the President's veto over the State Children's Health Insurance Program, SCHIP, is White House counselor Ed Gillespie. Welcome to the program.

ED GILLESPIE: Thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: Ed Gillespie, you may have the votes to sustain the veto, as we've heard, but you've also got stacks of newspaper editorials, a phalanx of interest groups and Republican Senators Hatch, Grassley and Roberts all on the other side. Why, when it comes to making a stand against spending, why does it come into veto of a bill that spends money on health insurance for children of low-income households?

GILLESPIE: Well, this isn't about spending. The fact is the president has proposed a 20 percent increase in funding for the SCHIP program and strongly supports extending the SCHIP program. The fact is, what we've seen in this program is money being diverted from children to adults. And in six states - New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana, Rhode Island, New Mexico and others - the fact is that they spend more SCHIP money on adults than they do on children.

The president is saying, let's move those adults out of the program for children into standard Medicaids. Don't deny them care, but move them out of the children's program so we can focus on children. Let's cover them before we extend this coverage to families of, with incomes, in some cases, above $83,000 a year.

SIEGEL: Use of that $83,000 figure has been widely criticized. And according to the White House's own fact sheet on the matter, that could only come about - it was a proposal in New York that wasn't put into practice. It could only come about if a future administration, somewhere down the road, approved it. And the future administration could block it. By that standard, you'd veto everything if something might be introduced by future administrations.

GILLESPIE: No, that's not the case. And I, by the way, I believe I said in my comments that, in some cases, it would be up to $82,000. That is in the case of New York, and that is codified in the law. And I'm happy to send to NPR the statutory language that was passed by the House and the Senate that codifies the New York waiver. The fact is that we cover, across the board, people with incomes up to $66,000 a year, so it's not the money.

SIEGEL: But the...

GILLESPIE: The President made clear...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

GILLESPIE: ...that if it requires more than the 20 percent increase in funding that he has proposed, the $5 billion additional money that he has put forward in his budget to cover those poor children, he is more than happy to reach an agreement and to compromise on this. The Democrats don't seem interested in compromising - those Democrats in Congress. They would seem to rather have, you know, run ads and do that kind of thing rather than actually get something done for the people they were elected to represent.

SIEGEL: While you can, you can send over the statutory language, if you like.

GILLESPIE: Sure.

SIEGEL: I'd just like to clarify. I was looking up quotes online for health insurance for a family of four in various different zip codes. It's a steal at $350 a month for people to ensure themselves. Many of the programs go at 400, $500 a month - and more than that, do you feel that, typically, households that are making, say, fifty, sixty thousand dollars in America today can afford policies of that sort?

GILLESPIE: Well, of course, that depends, you know, where you reside, you know, and the cost of housing and many other factors. The point is, you know, we're talking about people who are well above the poverty level that we're willing to cover. Some of those, you know, some folks are struggling and need help. And we are supportive and want to make sure that they get that help.

And that's why I appreciate the time on this program today to get some of these facts out about the - concerns the president has with the bill is not a concern, it is not a concern with ensuring poor children. And, in fact, his priority and his policy is to make sure that we cover poor kids first.

SIEGEL: Just to clarify, though. Doesn't the bill that was vetoed kick adults, parents off the program and, in fact, put them into Medicaid?

GILLESPIE: Yes. No, I don't believe it does. What the president is - supports is doing that. That's what the President proposes.

SIEGEL: I believe that the bill itself actually does that.

GILLESPIE: Robert, I will check. But that is the first I've heard that the bill itself actually does that.

SIEGEL: Well, we'll have an exchange of documents after our interview.

GILLESPIE: I appreciate the opportunity.

SIEGEL: And we'll see what we discover. Ed Gillespie, thank you very much for talking with us.

GILLESPIE: Thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: That's White House counselor Ed Gillespie.

And we went and pulled the bill the president vetoed to try to sort this out, and here is what we learned. The bill would kick out of SCHIP all adults without children and move them to Medicaid. No new adults could join SCHIP. And parents already in the program because their state allows it, can stay, but federal funding for them gradually would be reduced to the same level as if they were on Medicaid.

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