- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

Senate and House negotiators yesterday agreed on a plan to significantly expand a federally funded health care plan for low-income children, disregarding President Bush’s veto threat over his concern that it’s a move toward socialized health care.

The bill calls for spending an additional $35 billion on the 10-year-old State Children’s Health Insurance Program during the next five years, raising the funding to $60 billion. The plan will add an estimated 3.4 million children to the 6.6 million currently enrolled in the program.

“This announcement is a victory for America’s children,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

A House proposal that called for cuts to Medicare Advantage to help pay for SCHIP was dropped after many senators indicated that they would vote against the measure if Medicare was affected.

“As part of the compromise between the Senate and the House, House leaders have agreed to put aside Medicare for the time being so we can focus on getting health insurance to children,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, who helped write the Senate bill.

“There are important Medicare issues that need to be addressed before the end of the year, including the update for Medicare payments to physicians. I expect the Senate to start work on Medicare very soon.”

But many Republicans say the Democratic-crafted proposal to expand SCHIP would extend coverage to some middle-class families and would be a major step toward socialized medicine in the U.S.

President Bush on Thursday blasted the Democratic proposals and vowed to veto any bill that would extend the program to the middle class.

“Democratic leaders in Congress want to put more power in the hands of government by expanding federal health care programs,” Mr. Bush said. “I have a different view. I believe the best approach is to put more power in the hands of individuals by empowering people and their doctors to make health care decisions that are right for them.”

Some House Democrats weren’t happy with the compromise. Rep. Pete Stark of California sent a letter to his colleagues Thursday expressing frustration that provisions dealing with Medicare and Medicaid had been “abandoned for rhetorical and/or political reasons that are unclear to me.”

He added, “I will do everything I can to see all sections of [the House proposal] become law.”

Negotiators had spent the past three weeks hammering out a compromise between different SCHIP bills that passed both chambers last month.The final draft closely resembles the Senate version, as opposed to the more costly House plan, which called for a $50 billion expansion of the program over five years.

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. Funding for the program is set to expire Sept. 30.

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