Waiting for January 2009…

Susan Brink at the LA Times has a lengthy overview of the SCHIP children’s coverage crisis, from the point of view of one middle-class family that isn’t eligible for children’s covearge now, but their kids would be covered under the reform proposals by Governor Schwarzenegger and the legislative leadership, if the federal government gets around to funding the program.

More on the political side, there’s an important article by Zachery Coile at the San Francisco Chronicle describing the awful choices that California has with regard to the SCHIP discussion: without a resolution in DC, California is on the brink of disenrolling hundreds of thousands of children from the current program.

As I point out in the article, this goes beyond the awfulness of denying children coverage for their check-ups and emergencies… this undoes ten years of outreach and enrollment efforts to build the program up to this point, to the 800,000+ children now in CA’s SCHIP program, called Healthy Families. This is a betrayal of trust… the whole point of insurance is to provide security, and that security is gone when you yank the insurance away. When the funds eventually come in, will we find those kids again? Why wouldn’t those families be skeptical?

The only good news is that I think that this problem has a defined end date.

* There’s a good possibility that a deal could be worked out in the next few months between the President and Congress that provides the needed funds for SCHIP, especially if there’s enough heat on the President, Republicans running for re-election, especially 15-or-so Republican Representatives that would provide the margin for a veto override. The closer this gets to the election, the more Congressmembers on the wrong side of this issue may want a deal to protect them from political attack.

* In the worst case scenario, the problem goes to January 2009, with a new President. The Democratic candidates have already pledged to support the Congressional policy and level of funding. Frankly, I can’t imagine that a new Republican President would want to start his new term with a fight over children’s coverage (it’s still hard to fathom why President Bush has instigated this issue). And the next President, regardless of party, may not have a choice: a newly-elected Congress with different margins may be able to muster a two-thirds override itself.

There’s not enough federal money to wait until January 2009. So it’s a real, immediate, ugly problem… but one that has a light at the end of the tunnel.

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