If Health Insurance Veto Stands, Supporters Could Fall

The number of votes still needed to override the president’s veto of expanded kids’ health insurance  keeps changing. But 48 hours from a House of Representatives decision that Colorado Congressman Mark Udall calls “the most important this year on the domestic front,” the line seems drawn.

Support for the bi-partisan plan to cover more children whose parents can’t afford health insurance will not be enough to turn the measure into law.So expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – or SCHIP – gets to be the Achilles heel in the re-election campaigns of every member of Congress who opposed it.

Unless they undergo last-minute conversions, that will include Colorado Republican Representatives Marilyn Musgrave, Doug Lamborn and Tom Tancredo. The trio has spouted the White House line on SCHIP – that it is a step toward government-administered health care. You know, the bogeyman of “socialized medicine.”

SCHIP is no more “socialized medicine” than many current forms of health care finance, including the federal workers health insurance programs that Musgrave, Lamborn and Tancredo enjoy.

Don’t look for them to give that perk up for the cause.

Do look for the SCHIP veto to play not only in Congressional races, but also state elections in 2008.

“There has been a real shift in how the public cares about health care,” Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said Monday. “It is number one in the minds of Coloradans. The voting public is concerned about the uninsured. So I do think it will play a role in state elections. (SCHIP) may not be the only issue, but it will be a significant issue that can make inroads with independents and moderate Republicans.”

The governor’s take is based in part on a recent state survey by pollster Floyd Ciruli that showed concerns about health care have moved past taxes as the chief interest of potential voters in Colorado.

That should sound the alarm for opponents of SCHIP. Instead, at the state and federal level, they have decided to make a stand by denying preventive health care to kids. The right wing of the Republican Party has gone so far as to attack a brain-damaged 12-year-old who called out Bush on the veto.

They say the kid lives in a $400,000 house and represents the kind of person who doesn’t need government-subsidized insurance. The child’s family bought the house several years ago for $55,000 in a sketchy neighborhood that got better. But that is beside the point.

You can argue, as many opponents do, that expanding SCHIP coverage to kids whose household incomes are several times the federal poverty level gives government insurance to those who don’t need it. But in the end, you argue to deny children efficient and affordable medical treatment.

In other words, you argue to hurt kids. That is a huge political gamble.

“There is,” said Udall, “a moral component to this.”

There are also built-in savings, if that is all you care about.

“When you have children insured,” Udall pointed out, “they don’t go to the emergency room, which is expensive.”

And mandatory. The law requires that emergency rooms treat the sick regardless of their ability to pay. The costs of indigent care are passed along in the form of increased health insurance premiums paid by workers and employers. Those rising costs then force more workers and employers to have to cancel health insurance benefits, which then leave more uninsured families headed for the emergency room.

It is a vicious cycle.

This is why the Senate, divided almost equally between Democrats and Republicans, passed SCHIP expansion with 68 votes, enough to override a presidential veto.

With the looming defeat of the veto override in the House, children’s health insurance is about to become a huge wedge issue in the 2008 federal and state elections.

Ritter said he has never seen more bi-partisan support in the National Governor’s Association than he saw for expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“Forty-three governors supported it, including 16 Republicans,” Ritter said. “The president’s (alternative plan to expand the program by $5 billion a year) doesn’t keep up with medical inflation. That means less services for kids already covered.”

Or it could mean dropping kids from the program.

Either way, the president’s supporters have a big problem.

Udall remains focused on getting the override measure passed on Thursday. If it fails, he said, “my proposal is to pass the bill again, and send it back to the president.”

As for the 2008 elections, added Udall, “let the chips fall where they may.”

Or the SCHIP’s.

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Jim Spencer

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