This was a vote an amendment offered by Sen. McConnell (R-KY) to H.R. 2, a bill that reauthorized and expanded the Children's Health Insurance Program. The Children's Health Insurance Program was created by Congress to extend health insurance to the children of the working poor whose families were not covered by any insurance provided by employers. The amendment was designed to prevent the use of the program by individuals for whom it was not intended, and to prevent some states from extending the program to families with annual incomes above $70,000.
Sen. McConnell began his statement in support of the amendment by saying he supported the State Children's Health Insurance Program and believed that the Senate “needed to responsibly reauthorize it.” He then claimed “Republicans have a better alternative” to the bill that was being considered.
McConnell also said that his amendment would effectively increase funding in the insurance program “by responsibly allocating scarce resources without raising new taxes”, help find children who are not yet enrolled in the insurance program, and “close the loophole that allows some states to extend their program to higher income families, even while they have thousands of lower income children who still are not covered.” He claimed that the amendment would eliminate nearly all the adults who are covered “from a program designed for children so that more children can be covered.”
McConnell particularly criticized the pending bill because it “sanctions a loophole that allows a few select states, such as New York, to provide insurance to children and families earning more than $80,000 a year . . . instead of insuring low-income children first. This is more than double the median household income in many States . . . It is grossly unfair that a family in Kentucky making $40,000 must pay for the health insurance of a family making double that, especially if the Kentuckian cannot afford it for his own family.” He also claimed that estimates “found that nearly half of the new children added by this bill already have private health insurance . . . Republicans, on the other hand, believe we ought to target scarce resources to uninsured children, not those who already have coverage.”
Sen. Durbin(D-IL), who opposed the amendment, responded by claiming that there were only two “high cost of living states” in which families earning more than $80,000 a year would qualify for the federal insurance program. He said: “(B)y and large, this program is geared for people with incomes below $42,000 a year, and in some cases below $63,000 . . . to argue that this is a program that is for the wealthiest among us is to ignore the obvious (since) . . . people making $63,000 a year I do not put in the category of wealthy . . .When they face the cost of insurance not covered by their employer, it can be an extraordinarily high expense. That is why many of them opt out of coverage for the family, which means mothers, fathers, and children go without health insurance.”
Durbin then addressed the claim that the bill would allow families to replace their private insurance with the Children's Health Insurance Program. He suggested that their current insurance “could be a bad policy that is very expensive” to those families and they therefore should have “an option of coming into the Children's Health Insurance Program. If our goal is to give these families affordable health insurance, then why do we want to trap them in a private plan?” Durbin also noted that the McConnell Amendment “has a mandatory 6-month waiting period between leaving private health insurance and enrolling in the Children's Health Insurance Program. What kind of benefit is that for the families . . . who are in a bad private health insurance plan . . . We want to give them real insurance that can be there when they need it.”
The vote on the McConnell Amendment was 32-65. All thirty-two “aye” votes were cast by Republicans. Fifty-seven Democrats and eight Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, no changes were made in the bill to impose additional eligibility requirements on those who could participate in the Children's Health Insurance Program, or to prevent states from extending the program to families with annual incomes above $70,000.