Outrage over Bush plan to cut health insurance for children


August 21, 2007

MONTPELIER, Vt. --A plan to restrict access to a popular health insurance program for children drew irate reaction Tuesday from Vermont officials, who say more than 2,000 children in the state could lose coverage as a result.

The federal government, concerned that states are expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program so much that it's prompting people to drop their private insurance, recently told state health officials that children must have been without insurance for at least a year before qualifying.

States will also have to assure the federal government that at least 95 percent of the children eligible for the program or for Medicaid are enrolled in either of those two programs. Currently, no state can make such an assurance, but Vermont is closest, with about 92 percent participation.

Created in 1997 to help children whose families couldn't afford insurance but didn't qualify for Medicaid, the program -- known colloquially as S-CHIP, appeared ready to expand recently when both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to broaden its availability.

The new policy, which was laid out in a letter to state health officials Friday, got a cool reception in Vermont.

Calling it unconscionable and shortsighted, Gov. Jim Douglas said he would work with Vermont's three-member Congressional delegation and the National Governors Association to fight the plan, which he said would eliminate coverage for 2,125 children.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders were similarly upset.

"It is outrageous that President Bush is slamming the doctor's office door on sick children," said Sanders, I-Vt.

"We are the only major nation which does not provide health insurance for all children. Instead of throwing kids off health care, Bush should be working with us to cover more kids," Sanders said.

Welch said the plan would undermine bi-partisan work in Congress to insure more children.

"In Vermont, we have recognized that our children deserve access to quality health care and that this care is critical to a healthy childhood," said Welch, D-Vt.