SCHIP debate turns toward U.S. economy

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Lawmakers to link healthcare bill to economy. Source: The Buckeye Institute  

Advocates of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) hope to keep the bill alive heading into the November elections by linking children’s health insurance to the broader discussion about the U.S. economy.

Although the SCHIP debate may well conclude on Wednesday with another failed attempt to reverse the President’s veto, the gathering signs of a downturn could strengthen their case, and negotiations beginning this week on an economic stimulus package present the first opportunity to make the broader point, according to The Hill.

Special interest groups are expected to take a less targeted lobbying approach this week. According to The Hill, the American Medical Association, which partnered with the senior citizens’ lobby AARP last year to push for an SCHIP expansion, has no special campaign planned for the override vote. Likewise, the children’s advocacy group First Focus will be less active in the coming days as it looks ahead to other issues.

“We’re not running ads, we’re not doing those kinds of things,” First Focus President Bruce Lesley said. “It’s a tough call.” Trying to convince Congress to provide additional tax relief to families with children as part of the stimulus package has leapfrogged SCHIP on the group’s agenda, he explained.

The Hill reported that the attempt to tie SCHIP to the troubled economy may well fail to resonate in time to give the House Democratic leadership the two dozen or so additional votes needed to reach the three-fifths margin and overturn the President’s veto. However, bad news about the economy could lead to good news for children’s advocates and liberal groups hoping to get new federal action on SCHIP, as well as on Medicaid for low-income adults, or least reinvigorate SCHIP as a campaign issue heading into November.

“We’re going to be highlighting that, with the recession looming, it’s an entirely different landscape than the last time these people voted on this,” said Jeremy Funk, a spokesman for Americans United for Change, an organized-labor-allied organization that spent millions last year on advertisements targeting GOP lawmakers who voted against the SCHIP bill, according to The Hill.

The Joint Economic Committee last week issued a report concluding that a recession would create an additional strain on federal and state budgets as more people’s incomes fail to make them eligible for federal assistance through Medicaid and SCHIP, reported The Hill. Extrapolating from the events of the recession at the beginning of the decade, the committee projected that as many as 1.1 million children would sign up for Medicaid or SCHIP each year a recession held.

Some Democratic lawmakers are trying to get additional Medicaid funding attached to the economic stimulus package being eyed by the Bush administration and the congressional leadership, The Hill reported.

Lesley noted that SCHIP also could be affected by broader economic trends. When Congress enacted an extension of the program through March 2009 after failing to secure a five-year reauthorization last year, lawmakers included funds to make up for projected shortfalls in state SCHIP budgets. Those projections, however, could prove inaccurate if enrollment spikes, Lesley said. “More kids will become eligible for SCHIP and Medicaid” in a worsening economy, he said, reported The Hill.