By Sue Berkowitz and Frank Knapp Jr., Spartanburg Herald Journal

November 25, 2007

The S.C. General Assembly voted this year to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to provide coverage to children in families with incomes between 150 percent and 200 percent of poverty. With this increase from the previous income limit of only 150 percent, approximately 100,000 more of our state’s low-income, uninsured children will have access to preventive and needed health care.

Many organizations, such as the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center and the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, worked hard to secure the legislative funding for expanding SCHIP here in South Carolina, funding that is matched by four federal dollars for every one state dollar.

SCHIP is not Washington-run health care. SCHIP is simply a federal-state financing mechanism that enables needy children to access health care. In South Carolina, our recent expansion will only permit beneficiaries to access private-sector health insurance and receive health care from private-sector providers.

The SCHIP bill does not provide coverage to middle-income children in homes making more than $80,000 a year, as Sen. Jim DeMint contends. In fact, the bill he opposes would eliminate the ability of a state under the current law to ask the federal government for permission to expand its SCHIP to households with incomes at that level. The S.C. SCHIP program caps eligibility to children in households with incomes at 200 percent of poverty. That is about $42,000 for a family of four.

The states actually make the decisions as to how the SCHIP program operates. South Carolina mandates that all beneficiaries enroll in a private health care plan that is approved by the state. Parents have many options for their children enrolled in SCHIP. With our new expansion, families can choose from private managed-care programs or private provider-run Medical Home Networks.

Enrollment in SCHIP is totally voluntary for eligible children. The claim that SCHIP forces children off private insurance and onto government plans is an outright untruth both because the program is voluntary and because our SCHIP program is private insurance.

Sen. DeMint also makes the absurd claim that a tax credit plan he prefers would lead to higher quality of care for low-income children. There is absolutely no evidence that shows that a child with private insurance paid through SCHIP receives any different level of care than a child with private insurance who qualifies for a tax credit. To suggest that our health care providers give less quality care because of how a child affords insurance is a disgraceful attack on our medical professionals.

SCHIP has been an amazingly successful program in getting low-income, uninsured children the health insurance they need. Not only has this resulted in healthier children, but it has also helped prevent health care cost-shifting that contributes to rising premiums for the rest of the insured.

Congress should continue to send President Bush the 5-year SCHIP reauthorization bill for him to sign or veto. If it is the latter, Sen. DeMint should drop his unjustified opposition and vote to override the veto to help millions of children receive the health care we all know they need and deserve.

Sue Berkowitz is executive director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center.

Frank Knapp Jr. is president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

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