Floor Statement on Improving Children's Health Insurance
MR. REED: Mr. President, yesterday I voted with great enthusiasm for the SCHIP reauthorization bill. I think the present version is commendable and a version we should support. I particularly thank Leader Reid, Chairman Baucus, and Senator Rockefeller for their efforts, and I commend them.
The bill provides an additional $35 billion to preserve coverage for all 6.6 million children currently enrolled, and it expands coverage to an additional 4 million children.
The President and House Republicans have already denied these children access to health care once, by first vetoing the legislation and then sustaining the veto in the House of Representatives. I hope this version can pass without a veto. If it is vetoed, I hope the veto can be overridden.
The President's proposal, rather than expanding coverage, would in fact dramatically restrict coverage, dropping 1.4 million children and pregnant women. That is according to the Congressional Budget Office. So there is a very stark choice between an administration that wants to restrict coverage for children and this legislation, which would maintain, and indeed expand, that coverage to cover 10 million children in the United States.
With respect to Rhode Island, this bill adds an additional $75 million in Federal funds on the table. It has to be matched, but this would allow the State of Rhode Island to maintain its program of health care for children. The bill would prevent shortfalls that have periodically cropped up, where the State found itself expending all of its funds and hoping there would be a redistribution of funds from other States that have not used their funds.
Last year, and again early this year, I fought for $56 million in Federal funds to cover Rhode Island's shortfall. But these 11th-hour stopgap measures are not sustainable. The legislation we passed yesterday would prevent my State from being in a constant situation of shortfalls, hoping that other States have excess funds, and depending upon individuals in our delegation to get those funds for Rhode Island.
If President Bush and the House Republicans fail to enact this bill--if he vetoes it, and they sustain that veto--21 States will be at risk of shortfalls, totaling $1.6 billion. Rhode Island will have a shortfall of $44.1 million, beginning next March. We can predict that today. I don't know where my State would get that $44 million. It is in a severe budget crisis. State leaders are talking about trying to find $100 million to $200 million in cuts, which in our budget is a significant amount of money. So the idea that they would have to come up with $44 million on top of that is something that would be a very difficult challenge for Rhode Island.
If Republicans do not enact this bill, we must fully fund an extension that covers these shortfalls. We will be back next spring scrambling to find money to keep these programs functioning. I hope we can prevail at this juncture to create a program and funding that will be sustainable, predictable, and supportive of efforts in my State, and many States across the country, to reach out and insure children for their health care needs.
The President's opposition is not based on fact or common sense or, indeed, even common decency; it seems to be based on ideology. He says families would switch from private insurance to government-run health care. But the number of uninsured is rising because private insurance is too expensive. In Rhode Island, the average family premium for a year is $11,924. If you look at a typical working family in Rhode Island, it is struggling now to pay its mortgage. We have seen what is happening in the mortgage market, where many of these families, in order to get into a home, signed up for what are termed an exotic'' mortgage. In my State, foreclosures are at record-high levels. People cannot keep up with their mortgage payments. Then, added to that dilemma, wages have essentially been flat over the last 5 to 6 years, mortgage payments are going up, the price of gasoline is now reaching significant heights, and it is estimated that this winter heating oil in New England will be 20 percent more expensive than last winter. Are you then going to tell them: Oh, just go out and buy private health insurance for $11,000 a year?
That makes no sense for working families in Rhode Island. They are struggling to keep their homes and, literally, to keep the lights on and keep it a little warm during the wintertime. For many of these people, private health insurance, at $11,000 a year, is way beyond their reach. So to sit there and seriously insist that this is a real choice for these families--a choice of getting into a public program or buying private insurance--verges on the ridiculous.
Without the SCHIP program, thousands of families in my State--and millions of children across the country--will not have health care. There is no choice.
There is also the President's argument that this is socialized medicine. I believe that is a gross misrepresentation. In Rhode Island, children are enrolled in private plans, and enrollees can choose their doctor. In fact, there is another program like this, called Medicare. I don't see the President rallying against Medicare, saying how it is socialized medicine. In fact, I can recall he proposed--and this Congress supported--one of the largest expansions of Medicare by adopting a drug benefit. That costs the Federal Government billions of dollars, and there is no discussion about that.
These arguments are baseless. The President says this bill costs too much. In fact, this bill is fully paid for; it is one of the few things in the last 6 to 7 years that has been fully paid for.
It is paid for by a cigarette tax, and it is in sharp contrast to the President's repeated request for money for Iraq and Afghanistan, which is not paid for. He is spending about $12 billion a month. Of that money, over the last several years in Iraq, we have invested in items such as building Iraqi health care clinics and providing health care for Iraqis. In trying to reestablish stability in that country, the President recognizes that to have a decent, well-ordered society, you have to have access to health care for citizens. The problem is, he doesn't seem to recognize it here as much. So I believe we have to support this legislation.
The President also says the bill doesn't target low-income children. In fact, 80 percent of newly insured children would be from families below 200 percent of poverty. That is a pretty good target.
He talks about the bill expanding coverage to families making $80,000 a year. That was always a misrepresentation. But we make it clear in this bill that eligibility is capped at 300 percent of poverty; that is, families making $60,000 a year. That sounds like a lot, but if you are in a major urban area, with rents costing $1,000 to $1,500 to $1,800 a month for just a fairly--and I emphasize fairly''--decent two-bedroom apartment for your family, when you do the math, these people are not in a situation of excess wealth by any means.
In Rhode Island, 10,000 children remain uninsured. We can do much better. The Rhode Island program provides family-based health insurance. Rhode Island does enroll parents in this health care program. They found that it helps when the whole family is part of the delivery system. It has enhanced their ability to recruit children into the system. It has enhanced, in their view, health outcomes because now we have a family engaged rather than an individual child.
I think it is appropriate in Rhode Island that we have such a forward-thinking and progressive approach because the basic SCHIP program was, in many respects, the work of Senator John H. Chafee, my colleague, a former Republican Senator who was succeeded by his son Lincoln Chafee in this Chamber. Senator Chafee, who was a pragmatic, hardnosed Republican whose values were to provide opportunity to all citizens in the nation, understood that if we could deliver effective health care to children in this country, we would go a long way to give them the physical tools to be successful in school, to succeed in the workplace, and ultimately to be citizens of this great country. He fought hard for this program. He didn't do it on an ideological basis; he did it on a very pragmatic, practical basis. His success has been demonstrated over the last 10 years because we have given more children access to health care.
There are countless stories that will be forever unknown to us, but they will be decisive in the lives of children because this program has made a difference in their lives. Where they would have suffered with an undiagnosed disease that would have impaired their ability to thrive in school and work, because they had simple, preventive health care early on, they have been successful in school, and they will be successful in life. Families have been relieved of one of the most grievous fears they carry, and that is: Oh, my gosh, what happens if my child gets sick; I have no health care coverage--the gnawing fear at night that something could happen the next day and you have no way to protect your child because you cannot afford to get them health care. That fear has been relieved.
There is a very popular commercial from one of the credit card companies: Such and such an item, $10; such and such an item, $9; having the ability to do this, priceless. For families, having the confidence that they have health care is priceless, and this bill has helped them.
I hope the President will sign this bill, and if he doesn't--if he continues to roam through his ideological warehouse and pick out different odds and ends to justify this veto--then I hope the House Republicans have the courage to stand up and say: No, we are going to do what is right for the children of America, not just what is politically convenient for the President.
Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.