Republicans pan federal health care push

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“It’s a strategy that’s become the centerpiece of their domestic agenda, and it’s one that, if ever passed into law, would bankrupt our economy.”

SCHIP, which is a joint federal-state partnership, subsidizes the cost of insuring children living in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. The federal government pays for about 70 percent of the program, and the states pay the rest.

States are allowed to set eligibility guidelines, with some opting to expand coverage to as much as four times above the poverty level, or about $70,000 for a family of four. Some states also have extended coverage to some adults.

This “certainly is not low-income — this is middle-income coverage,” said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott of Mississippi. “That has really started causing problems of higher and higher level of income for the children and adults being included. That was never the intent.”

Republican leaders say they want to limit the program to children whose families truly cannot afford health insurance.

A Senate Republican alternative would reduce the cost of health insurance for small employers by 12 percent — or $1,000 per employee. The measure would cover more than 1 million uninsured Americans in working families, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who co-sponsored the measure.

“This redefines SCHIP to help the children it was designed to help — that is, low-income children,” Mr. McConnell said.

Democrats reject the minority’s charges that additional children their proposals would serve aren’t worthy of federally funded health care.

“We’re going to have a healthier nation because we’re going to invest in children and make sure that they’re going to get a healthy start for their future,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “We’re going to be a stronger nation because we are a healthy nation.”

To pay for the plan, House Democrats propose a 45-cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase, which they say would raise about $27 billion.

They also proposed cuts to the Medicare Advantage program, a program that works to provide health care services for rural seniors and minority communities across the nation. The cuts would save billions of dollars more, Democrats say.

Republicans counter that the House Democrats’ plan unnecessarily pits children against seniors.

The Senate version proposed no cuts to Medicare Advantage, but it calls for a 61-cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase, which is strongly opposed by many Republicans.

The proposal also is angering Republicans who say it makes it easier for illegal aliens to get government-funded health care. It eliminates a requirement that legal aliens must be in the country five years before getting benefits and also makes it optional for states to check whether a recipient is in the country legally.

“Again, the Democrats have proven their loyalty to illegal aliens over American citizens,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican.

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