Friday, January 4, 2008

No, McConnell Doesn't Hate Kids

Undaunted by the facts, John Cheves and the Lexington Herald-Leader have once again taken Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to task regarding SCHIP, the state child health insurance program. One would think, from reading the piece, that our senior senator grinds the bones of children to make his bread.

First, Cheves asserts that "Bush and congressional Republicans -- led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky -- have blocked expansion of the SCHIP program."

That is not the case. McConnell (unlike Wendell Ford) voted in favor of the original SCHIP bill in 1997. And McConnell has authored legislation, the Kids First Act, to expand SCHIP to cover additional poor children. In fact, the McConnell bill would insure more poor children than the bill supported by the Lexington-Herald and vetoed by the president.

But McConnell and the President correctly recognize that any expansion of SCHIP must be carefully drafted, because not all states use the program to fund insurance for poor children. To the contrary, New York sought to insure families with annual incomes of $82,000. New Jersey, likewise, wants to insure families with incomes of $70,000. And though the program was intended to protect children -- thus the "c" in "SCHIP" -- New Jersey spends half of its SCHIP funds on adults.

As a consequence of abuses by states like New York and New Jersey, the President vetoed legislation that failed to close a number of loopholes.

A point on the numbers: Cheves states that "[i]n 2006, Kentucky's SCHIP program spent $90 million to cover 51,000 children."

McConnell's Kids First Act would provide $161 million to Kentucky children in the SCHIP program (K-CHIP), according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill which the president vetoed, in contrast, would have provided $158 million. So the McConnell bill is actually more generous to Kentucky children than the bill that the Herald-Leader supported.

But the McConnell bill stays true to the original intent of SCHIP -- to provide health insurance for children from families too poor to buy private insurance, but with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid -- and still closes the loopholes exploited by middle-class adults in other states.

Cheves' fallacy is that he confused the intent of SCHIP, which McConnell supports, with the program's actual consequences, particularly the way in which it has been abused. McConnell and the President simply wanted to end the abuse and give the savings to the poor children who legitimately need the insurance.

McConnell's Kids First Act shows that he cares about and wants to help the poor children of Kentucky, but as for those middle-class adults in New Jersey trying to scam the tax-payers, not so much.

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