- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland is joining other states in litigation aimed at expanding health coverage for children through a popular program, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer yesterday continued to criticize President Bush for opposing the increase.

Gov. Martin O’Malley announced that Maryland is joining a coalition of states in legal challenges against new federal rules that state officials say prevent them from expanding coverage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). A veto showdown has been brewing between Congress and Mr. Bush, who doesn’t want to expand the program to the degree advocated by the Democratic majority in Congress.

“We don’t want to have millions of young people have the inability to be well,” Mr. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said during a press conference in front of the Maryland State House.

Graeme Frost, a 12-year-old Baltimore boy who suffered severe brain damage in a car accident three years ago, joined Mr. Hoyer, Mr. O’Malley and other Maryland officials to urge the president to support the expansion of the program.

Graeme, who gave the weekly radio address for the Democratic Party on Saturday, said a presidential veto would hurt “millions of kids like me.”

“If it weren’t for CHIP, I might not be here today,” Graeme said.

Maryland joins California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Washington in the litigation, which will be filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Mr. O’Malley’s office listed Arizona among the states filing lawsuits, but a spokeswoman for Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, said Arizona does not intend to participate other than possibly filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of other states’ lawsuits.

The lawsuit charges that rules issued in August by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services exceed the statutory authority set forth in Title XXI of the Social Security Act. It also contends the federal Administrative Procedures Act was violated, because the agency implemented the rules without a chance for public comment.

Congress recently passed legislation to roll back the new rules, but Mr. Bush has threatened to veto the measure.

The program now covers 6.6 million children from modest-income families not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Democrats want to add $35 billion, funded by new tobacco taxes. Mr. Bush wants a $5 billion increase to the program, and he has argued that the amount sought by Democrats is an irresponsible expansion of the program beyond its original intent.

Mr. O’Malley said Maryland has an estimated 137,000 children without health insurance. He said bipartisan support for expanding SCHIP should be enough for him to support it, too.

“It is time for President Bush to do his part, join the consensus and invest dollars in protecting the health of our children here at home,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat.

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat and a staunch advocate of improving health care access in Maryland, said the president granted waivers earlier in his administration to expand coverage, demonstrating the program’s effectiveness.

“Now, instead of taking a look at the tax cuts that he gave to the richest Americans, he’s trying to cut the people that need it most out of their health care system, and that’s just wrong,” Mr. Busch said.

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