Politicians Debate Government's Role in Health Care

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - "Democratic leaders want to offer free health care to millions of uninsured children. Who could be against that?" asks a liberal advocacy group.

MoveOn.org is pushing Democrats in Congress to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which will expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it.

Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on expanding the program before the congressional recess begins in August, and both chambers are considering a hike in tobacco taxes to help pay the expansion.

Senate Democrats want to spend an extra $35 billion taxpayer dollars on SCHIP over the next five years, adding millions of children -- including those from middle-income families -- to the rolls. The House is expected to support an even bigger spending increase for SCHIP, press reports said.

But President Bush wants to limit the spending increase to $5 billion over five years, and he says only low-income children should be included in the program.

MoveOn.org sees an expansion of the taxpayer-funded program as "our chance to make progress on health care."

But President Bush and other conservatives warn that Democrats are using the SCHIP expansion to get the government more involved in health care.

"I believe government cannot provide affordable health care," President Bush said last week. "I believe it would cause...the quality of care to diminish. I believe there would be lines and rationing over time."

The president says an expansion of government health coverage will reduce the availability of private insurance.

"If Congress continues to insist upon expanding health care through the S-CHIP program -- which, by the way, would entail a huge tax increase for the American people -- I'll veto the bill," he said.

MoveOn.org says it still doesn't have enough votes to override a presidential veto, and in an effort to pressure senators, the group is circulating an online petition, which urges Congress to "support full funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program."

The petition says extending coverage to millions of uninsured children will "bring America closer to quality, affordable health care for all."

The SCHIP program, a ten-year-old federal-state partnership, offers health coverage to 6 million children whose families earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but who can't afford private insurance.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the program, notes that different states have different eligibility rules. But in most states, uninsured children under the age of 19, whose families earn up to about $36,200 a year (for a family of four) are eligible. The insurance pays for doctor visits, immunizations, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits.

In his remarks on health care last week, President Bush said the current debate hinges on a "philosophical divide."

"Some in Congress believe the best solution to solving the frustrations of [the] uninsured and high costs for small businesses is to expand the role of government. I have a different point of view. I believe the best way to deal with the frustrations of the high cost of health care and uninsured is to change the tax code," making private health care "more affordable and more available."

Instead of expanding the SCHIP program beyond low-income children, President Bush is advocating a new tax deduction for families who buy their own insurance.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says the Bush administration supports SCHIP for low-income children, but it opposes any move toward a single, government-run health system.

In an April 23, 2007 commentary, Leavitt wrote, "the administration will not support a gradual government takeover of the health care market, and neither will the American people. If the world has learned anything from the 20th century, it is that free markets beat governments at delivering value and controlling costs."

Democrats advocate 'universal coverage

In a Monday night debate in South Carolina, the Democratic presidential hopefuls were asked what they would do to make low-cost preventative medicine available to everyone in the United States.

"Hopefully, everybody here (the Democratic hopefuls) will provide a plan for universal coverage," said Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama said the next president must make sure that drug and insurance companies don't have an undue influence on health care legislation.

Sen. John Edwards reminded viewers that he proposed a universal health care plan several months ago.

"The only way to cover everybody is to mandate it," Edwards said. "We have talked about it too long. We have got to stand up to the insurance companies and the drug companies that Barack just spoke about. It is the only way we're ever going to bring about real change."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said the most important thing is to "have a sense of national commitment that universal health care is an American value."

She also singled out drug and insurance companies, saying they have to stop telling Americans that "we can't do what most other developed countries do, which is cover everybody and provide decency and respect to every single person in this country with health care."

Bill Richardson said his health care plan would "cover everybody."

"In this country, no matter who you are, whether you're a ditch- digger, you're a teacher, you're a CEO, you're a waiter, you're a maid, every American deserves the right to the best possible quality health care."

He also stressed prevention. "It's starting early with kids. It's having -- get rid of junk food in schools, as I did in New Mexico..."digg_skin = 'compact'

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