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Could SCHIP Plan Pillage Private Insurance?

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Could SCHIP Plan Pillage Private Insurance?

Could SCHIP Plan Pillage Private Insurance?

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There's been a lot of buzz about whether they will or whether they won't. Well, tomorrow, the House of Representatives gives it a try. They will hold a vote to override the president's veto of a bill to expand the children's health insurance program known as SCHIP. The effort is expected to fail. In his press conference today, President Bush again explained his veto.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't like plans that move people from - encourage people to move from private medicine to the public, and that's what's happening under this bill.

NORRIS: A new poll shows the public supports an expansion even if it means some people would drop their private health insurance to get the government benefits.

NPR's Joanne Silberner reports on why some parents would do that.

JOANNE SILBERNER: Jessica Baron has a genetic condition that weakens her connective tissue. It's left her with some mild hip problems. Her 12-year-old son has the same condition, but he has it worse. He's got eye problems, weak ankles, knees and hands, and he needs a wheelchair. They were able to get Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance policies for about $600 a month. But with co-pays for drugs and doctors and a fifteen-hundred dollar deductible, their annual costs add up.

Ms. JESSICA BARON (Executive Director, Guitars in the Classroom): I would say that we're looking at a minimum of 12,000. It's probably closer to 15,000 a year if we include the co-pays on all of our medications and, you know, anything we have to do preventative.

SILBERNER: Baron and her son live in Southern California, where housing costs are high. Their rent and utilities run $24,000 a year. Baron is the executive director of a nonprofit group, Guitars in the Classroom, and makes $32,000 a year. Between rent and health insuranceā€¦

Ms. BARON: We've now overspent my pretax income and I haven't bought groceries yet. So that's why my sofa is 11 year old and I drive a falling-apart van with no chair, you know, automatic wheelchair lift in it.

SILBERNER: Baron isn't complaining. She's got savings that will last for another year or two, the hope that her nonprofit will begin to do better, and the smarts to be able to check out her options. One option was California's SCHIP program, but she found that with the $8,000 she gets from her ex-husband to help with her son's care, she makes too much to qualify unless the program is expanded, which she hopes it will be.

Analysts say Baron isn't alone. They expect that some parents would switch their children from regular insurance to an expanded government program because it's available to children with preexisting conditions, it covers almost everything, and it's cheaper.

Sarah Dufour would also like to make a switch. She and her husband live outside Buffalo, New York They have insurance for their two sons who are 3 and 6. Dufour doesn't know what her family pays out of pocket each year.

Ms. SARAH DUFOUR: It's too scary to find out.

SILBERNER: Her husband makes about $46,000 a year in an auto-body shop. He pays $89 a week for health insurance, his employer pays another $89. Not everything is covered and there are co-pays, like $250 for hospitalization, and $50 each time her accident-prone sons wind up in the emergency room.

Ms. DUFOUR: It does take quite a chunk out. I mean, it makes it harder to save up for things, like vacation, and Christmastime is always hard.

SILBERNER: They've taken no vacations for the last few years. The family's income is $100 over the current maximum for the New York state plan. Dufour says she'd sign on if the program were expanded. Premiums are often free or just $15 a month. Economist Linda Blumberg of the Urban Institute says SCHIP makes financial sense for a lot of people.

Ms. LINDA BLUMBERG (Economist, Urban Institute): Private policy with comparable benefits to what is provided for children under the State Children's Health Insurance Program is going to run in the neighborhood of $12,000. And for a family of four at roughly $52,000 of income, that's almost a quarter of their income.

SILBERNER: According to a new poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, the public strongly supports an expansion of SCHIP even if it means some people would drop their private insurance. Sarah Dufour of upstate New York supports an expansion. Even though she's a lifelong Republican, she says, this is one place the government should get involved because somebody needs to do something.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News, Washington.

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