Bush’s SCHIP Shenanigans Don’t Affect Colorado – Yet

First, the good news. President George W. Bush’s latest pandering to private insurance companies will not affect Colorado’s program to provide treatment to kids whose parents can’t afford health insurance.

Then, the bad news. The president’s new restrictions on expanding health care to kids don’t affect Colorado because the state doesn’t yet care enough about its children to guarantee medical services to as many of them as possible.

First things first. The White House placed the well-being of private insurance companies over the well-being of kids with regulations put into place while Congress was on its August break.

The new rules make it harder for states to expand the publicly subsidized State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a national network of state-run plans that include federal funding.

Bush is concerned that letting more kids into SCHIP will take business away from private health insurance providers.

The president has also threatened to veto an expansion of SCHIP now being worked out in Congress.

“It’s all part of a grand effort to privatize everything,” said Howie Wolf, who’s been a family doctor in Boulder County for 45 years. “With his veto, the president plays into the hands of medical insurance companies who stand to profit.”

Profit from the potential suffering of little children.

Bush’s minions have ruled that no state may offer SCHIP to kids from families making more than 250 percent of the federal poverty standard until those kids have been uninsured for a year.

“Criminal isn’t a word I would use,” Wolf said. “But it is sad.”

Sad and savage.

Studies show uninsured children get little or no preventive health care. Too many end up untreated or sick in emergency rooms where they must be cared for regardless of their ability to pay. That kind of treatment is inefficient and expensive. The costs are passed on to everyone who has insurance in the form of higher premiums. This, in turn, drives businesses to drop coverage or raise premiums to prohibitively high levels for employees.

So forcing kids to go uninsured is bad fiscal policy. But that misses the main point:

The health care debate ought to be about sense, not dollars.

Health care, said Wolf, should be part of “the common good.”

White House regulatory changes for SCHIP certainly don’t help Americans collectively. Bush wants states to enroll at least 95 percent of children in households with incomes twice the federal poverty level before they can expand children’s health insurance to kids whose household incomes exceed 250 percent of poverty.

Thing is, no state has yet enrolled 95 percent of eligible children in households with incomes twice the federal poverty level, which is $41,300 for a family of four.

This is clearly a blizzard of numbers. But it’s important to understand, even though Colorado has not yet been affected.

When Colorado wakes up and starts treating children with compassion, it likely will be affected by Bush’s madness. Right now, Colorado only offers its version of SCHIP – called Children’s Health Plan Plus – to children in families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, said Joanne Lindsay, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

Projected expansion of CHP+ only goes to 205 percent of poverty, Lindsay added.

Ergo, the new White House rules don’t apply here, she said.

But remember, that’s only because Colorado has not stepped up in behalf of kids.

The blue ribbon health commission that will recommend a health reform plan to the General Assembly has before it some plans that would increase income levels that qualify for subsidies. That means Colorado’s kids might soon find themselves caught in the trap set by the Bush administration’s cynical manipulations.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 15 states already have children’s health insurance programs to include children whose families have incomes greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Some states go to 250 percent – $51,625 for a family of four – and some states go to 300 percent – $61,950 for a family of four.

If that sounds like a lot of money, consider what Kaiser also reports: Insurance premiums for a family health policy increased 102 percent from 1996 to 2004.

The cost of insurance is still going up and, Kaiser says, “it has risen substantially faster than the increase in (the federal poverty level) over time. For people whose income just exceeds the eligibility standards for public coverage, the share of family income required to pay for private health insurance increases substantially.”

In 2003, people with household incomes between 200 percent and 399 percent of federal poverty levels spent 23 percent of their income on health care, Kaiser reports.

The cost of physician visits, prescription drugs and insurance premiums have risen by double digits since 2003, pricing more and more families and more and more kids out of decent, cost-efficient coverage.

A long time ago, Jesus said “Suffer little children and forbid them not from coming unto me.”

Maybe the White House and Colorado should take the same approach to healing bodies as Christ took to healing spirits:

Suffer little children and forbid them not from going to the doctor.