Chipping Away at the Bush Legacy
This afternoon, the House will vote on – and likely pass – legislation expanding the SCHIP program that provides health insurance to children from low- and middle-income families who are generally not eligible for Medicaid assistance. You may remember the epic struggle in the fall of 2007 when President Bush twice vetoed SCHIP expansion (see here and here), resulting in a temporary extension of the program through the end of March 2009.
Given the near-miss veto override in the House that year, one might question the significance of the House vote: after passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, both of which sailed through the previous 110th session of the House, is passing SCHIP much of a step forward for the new Congress?
In the policy vacuum created by debate over the stimulus package and the release of the second $350 billion in TARP funds, House passage of SCHIP sends an important message (hopefully one the Senate will heed) that the fundamental problems afflicting the middle class during the Bush administration are even more important to address during the current recession.
A recent report released by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured highlights the important role that SCHIP plays in providing coverage to the ever increasing numbers of the unemployed who often lose health coverage along with their jobs. COBRA, which allows employees to continue receiving employer-based health coverage after their termination, and private plans are frequently too expensive for the unemployed, leaving Medicaid and SCHIP as their best options. Further, as The Economist pointed out several weeks ago, government spending on health care is an effective form of stimulus: “increased spending on health (which can’t be made in China) will do more to stimulate the economy than issuing tax refunds (which consumers will only squirrel away under their mattresses).”
It will be interesting to see if the media emphasizes the stimulative effects of health spending or chooses to focus on a more controversial aspect of the SCHIP legislation, its extension of coverage to legal immigrant children and pregnant mothers. The latter is certainly important, but forgetting the former will open the legislation to baseless claims profligate spending.