Bush Vetoes S-CHIP to Howls of Protests from both Republicans and Democrats
Following through on his long-standing promise to reject the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) passed by Congress in September, President Bush vetoed the popular legislation last Thursday. Both Democrats and Republicans, as well as advocates of children's health and welfare, responded in anger and frustration.
Cara Bachenheimer, Invacare's head of government relations said, "Now that S-CHIP is basically done, Medicare will heat up extremely quickly." Bachenheimer anticipates that Congress will try to create new Medicare policy this year.
The HME industry has closely followed the S-CHIP legislation because the House's version, before it was reconciled with the one passed by the Senate, included far-reaching Medicare provisions, including the elimination of the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs and a dramatic reduction in the length of time oxygen users could rent equipment before having to buy it. The industry continues to watch the issue closely because any compromise legislation that moves through Congress between now and the end of the year could become a fast-track vehicle to modify competitive bidding.
So strong was the reaction from even well-respected conservatives in Congress like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) that, by Saturday's weekly presidential radio address, Bush was talking about a compromise and said he had instructed Health & Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to talk with congressional leaders about developing an alternative that the administration could support.
Bush opposes the $35 billion legislation because it expands the pediatric health-insurance program to include some 10 million children from families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford most private health-insurance plans.
The administration argues that this approach represents an inappropriate expansion of publicly funded health care, which Bush believes should be handled by the private sector.
Ironically, the private health-insurance industry supported the bill, along with most every organization that lobbies for children's nutrition, medical, housing and other programs. Many supporters of the legislation expressed outrage that the administration's spokespeople used arguments that were well known to be inaccurate to support the veto. As late as Friday evening, White House sources were doing media interviews in which they insisted the vetoed bill would have allowed the S-CHIP program's resources to be used for adults' health care. In fact, the legislation phased out adult inclusion.
Because Republicans around the country already fear the effect of an unpopular war on next year's elections, they are especially concerned that Bush's veto of one of the most popular federal programs affecting children will only make the 2008 election more difficult for them. Observers expect Leavitt and congressional leaders to hammer out a compromise bill that the president can sign before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the S-CHIP program expired Sept. 30, leaving state governments and families anxious about the outcome of the S-CHIP tug of war between Congress and the White House.
This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of HME Business.