CHIP-ing Away at Bush

The long-awaited expansion of SCHIP could be the first tangible victory for black folks in the new Obama era.


Congress is likely to take its first meaningful swipe at the Bush era today by passing a long-awaited expansion of the public health insurance program for poor children. We spend more than $2 trillion a year on health care and still leave 1 in 9 kids without coverage, but Bush twice found reason to veto an expansion of the program. Twice. The bill before Congress now would reauthorize the program for another 4.5 years, cover an additional 4.1 million poor kids and pay for it by taxing cigarettes.


If passed, the bill will also be the first tangible victory for black folks to come out of the new reign of Barack Obama and the Democrats. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program has cut the number of uninsured black kids by half since it began in 1997, and 60 percent of the estimated 9 million kids who still aren’t insured are black, according to Families USA.


The House will vote on the bill today or tomorrow; the Senate will begin deliberation in the Finance Committee tomorrow.


Republican opposition hasn’t waned, of course. GOP House members sent a letter of objection to Nancy Pelosi on Monday (the first of what will no doubt be many largely symbolic outcries from the defanged House Republican caucus over the next two years). Like Bush, House GOP leaders have thrown a host of complaints at the Capitol wall in the hopes that one will stick—it’s too costly ($33 billion); it ignores the larger question of fixing Medicaid; it covers people who could get private insurance.


This last claim has been the most absurd of the Bush/GOP objections to SCHIP’s reauthorization and expansion. The Congressional Budget Office has said four out of five of the 4.1 million additional kids who the bill would cover are in families with incomes that should already qualify them for coverage, if there was enough money.