The U.S. Senate was scheduled to vote last week on a State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) bill that was already drawing the ire of Gov. Haley Barbour.
Barbour’s primary opposition to the bill is the clause in it that will extend health insurance benefits to children in states like New York and New Jersey whose families earn up to $88,000 per year.
“It is critical Mississippi’s poor children be provided for before children in New York and New Jersey, whose families make $65,000 or even $88,000 per year,” Barbour said. “Those families are not only not poor, they make well above the average family income ($50,000) in the United States.”
Barbour and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi decried the sales pitch Democratic leaders in Congress were using to push the bill — that the bill would make health insurance available for more children than the old version of S-CHIP.
The funding gap for Mississippi under the new bill, Barbour said, would be $80 million. He acknowledged that this bill was an improvement over the old law. Under the old law, Mississippi could enroll any eligible child in S-CHIP because unspent money from other states could be reallocated.
“Never because our grant was big enough (to begin with),” Barbour said.
Wicker said in a statement that he intended to vote against the bill.
“This provision would take funds away from Mississippi’s poor children and leave them without health insurance,” Wicker said. “We must focus our attention to ensure S-CHIP remains targeted at low-income, uninsured children.”
Under the new bill, Mississippi would receive more federal money and would be able to enroll more children.
“However, it does not give us a grant that would cover all the (eligible) children in the state,” Barbour said. “That should be the starting place. The starting place should be that every state would receive or be guaranteed that they would get enough money to cover all the children at under 200 percent (of the poverty level) before we start letting New York and New Jersey cover children whose families make eighty-something thousand dollars a year.”
Barbour testified last year before Congress that any new S-CHIP bill must include enough money to cover all the Mississippi children who are eligible.
“I thought that most of the people up there wanted to cover all the poor children, Democrats and Republicans,” Barbour said.
The new bill would more than double the amount the program spends, up to $60 billion from $25 billion.
“Yet it doesn’t cover all the children under the 200 percent poverty level that has been the purpose of the program since 1997, when it went into law.”
There remained the possibility last Wednesday afternoon that Republican opponents of the bill would have the opportunity to amend the bill so that it would cover every child whose annual family income fell at or under 200 percent of the federally defined poverty level, which is $21,200 for a family of four.
The bill cleared the House. Republican Third District Congressman Gregg Harper was the only dissenting Mississippi Vote.
Democratic First District Congressman Travis Childers, of Booneville, said the sagging economy made voting for the measure imperataive.
“My family and I have been in the healthcare industry for years,” said Childers, who along with a real estate company has operated nursing homes. “I understand the importance of coverage, especially for our children. Covering more eligible children is not only the right thing to do — it makes good economic sense for taxpayers who will not foot the bill for more costly problems down the road. In addition, a healthy child is better prepared for learning and success.”
Waivers have been historically granted to children whose family income exceeds the maximum. The new bill, Barbour said, essentially eliminates the need for waivers.
“This bill would say every state could cover children up to 300 percent (of the poverty level) and waivers would be smiled on for more than that, and those would be covered as if they were Medicaid children,” Barbour said. “All we want is to be guaranteed that we’ll have enough federal money to cover children under the base program. That’s all we’ve ever asked for.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .