This vote was on an amendment by Trent Lott, R-Miss., that would increase funding levels for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $9.3 billion over five years and would prohibit coverage for non-pregnant adults.
The SCHIP program – funded primarily through taxes on tobacco products -- helps low income families with children afford health insurance, and currently covers about 6 million kids. The amendment was offered to a bill that would reauthorize SCHIP and expand the program’s funding by about $35 billion over the life of the bill. To offset the cost of expansion, the bill would increase the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to $1 per pack.
Lott pitched his amendment as a compromise between those who want to see more children covered under SCHIP, and Republicans who have repeatedly sought to curtail some states’ practice of using SCHIP funds to cover not only children, but adults with very low incomes.
The program is intended to be a health insurance safety net for poor children, but states have been given significant flexibility to design their own benefit packages, within certain guidelines. Some states use SCHIP funds to provide health coverage to very poor adults as well as children, or to cover children from families whose incomes are more robust than SCHIP would otherwise allow. Republicans are strongly opposed to this practice, and worry that it represents one step closer toward establishing another large new health-care entitlement program along the lines of Medicaid.
“I have, on two previous occasions, indicated that part of my big problem is the pattern of the coverage going up and up … and under the underlying bill, middle-income children would be covered, and that we are on a steady march to say all children ought to be covered regardless of income,” Lott said. “I think that is a mistake. I think it is unaffordable. It will lead to disruptions, and it will lead to significant tax increases, or it will start to put our children against the parents.”
Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., was unafraid to indicate her support for health coverage for everyone . She said Lott’s amendment would in fact take health insurance coverage from adults and children both who are now covered by SCHIP. She said some have dubbed Lott’s amendment CLIP, for “Children Losing Insurance Program,” a play on SCHIP.
“We don’t need anything that is going to take us backward and have fewer children receiving health insurance,” Stabenow said. “I want to see us make a major commitment to universal health insurance in the greatest country in the world so that everyone has the opportunity to be able to receive the health care they need. We should be striving to achieve nothing less than that.”
By a vote of 35-61, the Senate rejected Lott’s amendment. All Democrats present voted against the amendment. Of Republicans present, 35 voted for it, and 12 voted against it. The end result is that the bill went forward without language that would have increased funding for SCHIP by $9.3 billion, but phase out coverage for non-pregnant adults.