Senate Considers SCHIP for Third Time The Senate is working on its third version of a bill to expand the state children's health insurance program, known as SCHIP, which President Bush says will prompt his second veto if it isn't squarely targeted at poor children.
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Senate Considers SCHIP for Third Time

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Senate Considers SCHIP for Third Time

Senate Considers SCHIP for Third Time

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Now hear's a consequence of one of the disagreements we just heard about. The Senate is now working on its third version of a bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which, President Bush says, will prompt his second veto on this issue alone. Lawmakers say that while they argue, six million children covered by the program will keep getting help with temporary funding.

But as NPR's Julie Rovner found out, that is not necessarily the case.

JULIE ROVNER: For the second straight day, President Bush chastised Democrats for making what he called cosmetic changes to the bill to expand the SCHIP program. Yesterday's lecture came during a speech in Washington to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, I made it perfectly clear that if you keep passing this piece of legislation, I'm going to keep vetoing it - unless, of course, it's a piece of legislation that focuses on poor children and does not expand the reach of the federal government in the health care.

ROVNER: Meanwhile on the Senate floor where the bill was under consideration, Democrats like Robert Menendez of New Jersey were happy to return the president's fire.

Senator ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): This is a president who doesn't see the irony in sticking out one hand to ask for $200 billion for Iraq this year while using the other hand to veto health coverage for poor American children.

ROVNER: In the meantime, Congress and the president have agreed to temporarily continue to fund the SCHIP program at last year's levels. Only there's a problem - SCHIP roles have grown so much that last year's funding isn't enough to cover this year's kids. According to the Congressional Research Service, 21 states will run out of money sometime during the coming fiscal year; 10 would run out of money by next March. Maine is one those states.

Kirsten Figueroa is the state's deputy commissioner for finance in the Department of Health and Human Services. She says the staff hasn't figured out yet what they might do.

Ms. KIRSTEN FIGUEROA (Deputy Commissioner for Finance, Department of Health and Human Services, Maine): We currently have forty-five hundred kids in that program. I'm not exactly sure that we've determined how - we couldn't just pick certain kids and, you know, and say you're not covered as of today because how do you pick one over the other.

ROVNER: Iowa, like Maine, doesn't cover adults and only covers kids up to two times the poverty line - about $41,000 for a family of four. It will also run out of money in March.

Kevin Concannon, Iowa's head of Health and Human Services, says he, at least, has a plan.

Mr. KEVIN CONCANNON (Director, Department of Health and Human Services, Iowa): We would look at extending or making changes in our Medicaid program to pick up some of those children who are in what's called a Medicaid expansion program.

ROVNER: That would cost the state more money, he says, but at least it would prevent those kids from losing their coverage. But stepping in with state money wouldn't be an option in Georgia, another state projected to run out funds in March, says Community Health Commissioner Rhonda Medows.

Dr. RHONDA MEDOWS (Commissioner, Department of Community Health, Georgia): The state has actually law on the flux that actually prevents the program to be funded 100 percent by the state.

ROVNER: Georgia's program called Peach Care already went through one funded shortfall earlier this year, requiring it to freeze enrollment and take other cost-cutting measures. Medows says that turning the funding spigot on and off like this is having a bad impact on children covered by the program.

Dr. MEDOWS: We are talking about a disruption for care of children who are in the middle of chemo, who are in the middle of surgeries, who are in the middle of getting much-needed treatment for diabetes and asthma. These are children, who actually have ongoing health care needs, and they cannot plan - their parents and their health care providers - cannot plan past November 16th because this has not been resolved yet.

ROVNER: November 16th is when the latest short-term funding runs out. Congress is likely to extend that for the rest of the fiscal year, but it's not clear whether there will be additional money for the states like Georgia that will run out in March. And Medows says if the money ends, so will the coverage.

Dr. MEDOWS: If federal funding is discontinued, then the actual SCHIP, and in Georgia, Peach Care program ends. It means that children who are in the program would be dis-enrolled because there would be no federal funding to keep the program going.

ROVNER: In Washington though, no compromise seems imminent.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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