- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

State health insurance programs could pay for prenatal care and childbirth by classifying an unborn child as a person who is eligible for services under a policy being considered by the Bush administration.
The change would allow states to consider a fetus "a targeted low-income child" under the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), according to a draft letter being reviewed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesman Bill Pierce said the goal is to expand access to prenatal care and give states more flexibility in running their programs, not to promote the pro-life cause, as some feminists have complained.
"This just gives the states another tool to expand access to another population," he said yesterday. "States don't have to do this. This is simply another tool for them to use if they wish."
The administration could accomplish that goal through legislation expanding CHIP to pregnant women, said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
"Basically, what they're trying to do is establish a word game so they have a stronger position on overturning Roe vs. Wade," she said, referring to the Supreme Court case that created the right to an abortion and declined to classify the unborn as persons.
One pro-life group worries that the move could be an effort to buy political capital so the Bush administration can take a liberal line on the use of stem-cell tissue from human embryos for medical research.
"Why has the Bush administration all of a sudden decided they will focus on this?" asked Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, in an interview with The Washington Times yesterday. "If he is providing insurance coverage for the pre-born child, why isn't he at the same time saying that no minor child should have access to chemical abortions?
"He is trying to throw the pro-life movement a bone so he can say there is no consensus over stem-cell research. This is a crisis in the pro-life movement," Mrs. Brown said. "As a 'compassionate conservative,' he has to come to a middle ground. But you can't come to a middle ground when people are dying."
Mr. Pierce agreed that the CHIP effort, at least in part, grows out of the administration's stance on abortion and other pro-life issues.
"If the question is, 'Is the secretary pro-life?' the answer is 'yes,'" he said. "So is the administration."
States already may cover pregnant women under the program, but they have to get permission from HHS since CHIP is meant for children, not adults.
"Regardless of the age of the mother, eligibility for the unborn child may be established thereby making services including prenatal care and delivery available," says the draft letter addressed to state officials from Dennis Smith, director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations.
The letter notes that it is well established that access to prenatal care can improve a child's health. Medicaid, which covers the poorest Americans, already requires states to cover many pregnant women.
CHIP, created in 1997, is targeted at children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy health insurance on their own.
Staff writer Julia Duin contributed to this report.

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